60-Second Science

Writing Exercise Helps Female Physics Students

A simple writing exercise that had been shown to help minority students improve their grades also seems to help female physics students. Cynthia Graber reports

Back in April 2009, this podcast covered research finding that a simple writing exercise helped minority students improve their grades. Now, a new study shows that the same exercise can help female college students overcome stereotypes about women in science and improve their performance. The work is in the journal Science. [Akira Miyake et al., Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation]

Women in physics classes tend to do more poorly than men on exams. The researchers wanted to look at the role of psychological issues. They surveyed 399 students of both sexes in an intro physics class about whether they agreed with the stereotype that men are generally better at physics.

Then half took part in exercises where they chose values important to them, and they wrote about why these mattered. They did so at the beginning of the semester and again before a midterm exam.

In the control group—which did not do the values writing—men scored much better on the exam. But in the affirmation group, women saw their grades improve, significantly reducing the gender gap. And women who had agreed that men were better at physics improved the most. So a little positive affirmation might help more women thrive in science—and stay in the field.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast]

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