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This Quick Writing Task Lifts Women's Science Grades

Women taking notes in a classroom
Problem Area: 

Problem

The stereotype that women are bad at science leads many of them to underperform in their courses.

Solution

A short writing task about treasured personal values deflects harmful stereotypes and helps women reach their full potential.

The Details

Psychologist Akira Miyake and colleagues assigned 399 students in a college physics class to one of two groups. Students in the values-affirmation group spent 15 minutes in the second week of class writing about their most important values, while students in the control group wrote about their least important values. Before the midterm exam, students once again wrote about either their most or least treasured values. Students remained in the same condition for both assignments.

All students also completed a survey measuring how much they believed the stereotype that men are better than women in science and math.

At the end of the quarter, the researchers found that women in the values-affirmation group earned higher test scores than did women in the control group. Indeed, women who wrote about their core values scored nearly on par with the men in the class. In addition the intervention worked better for women who more strongly endorsed the stereotype that "men are better than women."

Why This Works

When people express their values, their sense of self-worth improves, which helps reduce stress, improve performance, and protect them from negative stereotypes about their group.

When This Works Best

This intervention works best for women who believe the stereotype that men are better than women in STEM.

The Original Study

Miyake, A., Kost-Smith, L. E., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, T. A. (2010). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science, 330 (6008), 1234-1237. View PDF →

Credits

Text by Ada Thatcher-James and Xiuneng Li

Photo via Stanford/SALLIE