A woman’s quest for romance conflicts with scientific pursuits

When a woman’s goal to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), according to a study by researchers from the University of Buffalo (UB).The study, funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, tried to find out why women, who have made big progress in education and in their work over the last few decades, are still not represented at the highest levels of STEM. The research was published in the September issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin titled ‘Effects Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes Toward Math and Science’.

Lead author Lora E. Park, UB associate professor of psychology and her colleagues studied 350 participants and conducted four experimental lab studies.

The first three studies either had participants look at images on the computer or overhear conversations. After that, participants reported in a questionnaire how interested they were in either romantic activities or academic activities.

In study one, participants (both men and women) saw 15 images on the computer related to romantic situations (e.g., images of romantic restaurants, beach) or intelligence situations (e.g., images of library, books). They were asked to complete questionnaires and reported their interest in STEM and preference for academic majors.

“How much does this image make you want to be intelligent?”; “How much does this image make you want to be intelligent?”; “How interested are you in Math and science?”; and “How likely are you to pursue a degree or career in Math and Science” were some of the questions asked in the questionnaires.

“We found that for women but not for men, they showed less interests in the science, technology, engineering, and math if they start with romantic pictures,” said Dr Lora E.Park.

In study two, some participants overheard conversations in the lab about a recent romantic date they went on or a test they took in class. Following the conversation, participants were asked to report their attitudes towards STEM and preference for academic majors.

Participants answered to the questions: ”How much does this conversation make you want to be romantically desirable?”;“How much does this conversation make you want to be intelligents?”; and “How much do you identify with Math and Science?”.

In figure 4, the study 2a shows that women who overheard a romantic conversation tended to show less preference for academic majors in science and math. Compared with study one, women did not have difference in STEM attitudes after they overheard the romantic conversation. In study 2b, they have same romantic date conversation, instead of overhearing a test conversation in study 2a, study 2b picked up a conversation about their friends visiting from out of town.

Again Dr Park and her colleagues found that women overhearing romantic date conversation showed less interest in math and science. Women who overheard the romantic conversation tend to be less interested in majoring in science and math than women who overheard the friendship conversation. Both men and women showed no difference in friendship goal situation.

In the third study, researchers asked women to report their daily romantic and intelligence activities. Participants came to the lab and were taught how to use personal digital assistant (PDA) to record their daily activities. For three weeks, they were asked to complete a survey on their PAD before they going to bed. They reported how much they were trying to be romantically desirable that day, and how many romantic activities and intelligence strivings and math course activities they engaged in.

Participants completed a daily survey made up of four categories: romantic goal pursuit, intelligence goal pursuit, activities checklist and feelings of desirability. Samples items were as follows:

In the romantic goal pursuit, participants answered on the PAD: “Today, I was trying to be romantic desirable”; In the intelligence goal pursuit, participants reported on the PAD: “Today, I was trying to be academically competent”; In the activities checklist, participants answered whether they had involved in math and romantic activities that day. Such as “Today, I did my homework” or “Today, I called someone I interested in”; In the category of feelings of desirability, participants responded to the PAD like “Today I felt likeable”.

Dr Park explains that although the more romantic activities they engage in, the more desirable they felt, the women showed less interest in fewer math activities.

Dr Park is currently doing more research showing that not every women has conflicts between romantic goal pursuits and interest in science. “It seems like the more traditional you are in your relationship, if you have tradition beliefs, those are the women who have this conflict.”

Photo credit: ninaL on Flickr

Figures from the study: Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes Toward Math and Science

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