Gender or Community: What Drives STEM Interest Among Middle School Students?


Much attention has been given to increasing women’s and girls’ interest and participation in STEM fields. One way of increasing STEM interest is to target STEM-gender stereotypes by presenting students with female stereotype-disconfirming exemplars. However, the exemplar approach has had mixed effectiveness in adolescent populations. The present study examined middle school students’ interest in STEM fields and their communal goal interest. Participants were given different interventions that either presented a female exemplar of a scientist or leveraged communal goals. Results found no gender differences in STEM interest, but a correlation between communal goal endorsement and a belief that STEM careers are compatible with communal goals. The intervention that leveraged communal goals effectively increased STEM interest for some students, while the exemplar interventions were ineffective. These findings suggest that with regard to STEM interest in early adolescence, endorsement of communal goals may be a more influential factor than gender category membership.

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