A new study finds that when women are primed to think about their love lives, they become less interested in STEM coursework. Why?
Researchers at the University of Buffalo have published a study finding that when women are "pursuing romantic goals" they tend to shy away from academic work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In two experiments, subjects were exposed to images and conversations that primed them to think about dating, and then completed questionnaires regarding their interest in pursuing STEM versus other majors. Women who thought about dating and not intelligence or friendship reported less interest in STEM fields. A third component of the study asked women to keep track of their feelings of romance and their interest in math, and found that the two were at odds.
Though the study's sample was pretty small (350), its conclusion doesn't seem off base. In fact, it's right in line with all your worst fears about how stereotypes about gender hold women back. Women, the reasoning goes, believe that men don't find brainy scientists attractive, and choose academic pursuits they believe will be less off-putting. As the study's authors explain, "When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science. One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms."