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Gender is a feature of society that is becoming the focus of more and more research and experimentation.  One idea that fascinates me is the idea of psychological priming for gender and gender related activities and careers.  I’m working my way through Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, but this article caught my eye from Jonah Lehrer and dovetails nicely with what I am currently reading.
“One last point: I think the power of seeing a female calculus professor is magnified by the absence of similar figures in mass culture. In a 2002 study led by the psychologist Paul Davies, two groups of male and female undergrads were shown three minutes of television commercials. Students in the first group were shown a variety of “gender stereotyping” ads, such as a woman gleefully touting the benefits of a skin product, or a “slender female” talking about the deliciousness of diet soda. (All of the ads were real.) Students in the second group, in contrast, were shown a mix of gender-neutral ads, such as a pitch for an insurance company and a commercial about cell-phones. Then, the women were quizzed about their interest in pursuing a career in math or science.

Once again, the results were depressingly clear: Women exposed to the gender stereotyping ads were far less interested in anything quantitative. Instead, they were more than twice as likely to choose careers in the verbal and service industry, such as retail, sales and communication.

The pattern was reversed, however, in the women who saw neutral ads. They were actually more interested in pursuing quantitative careers. All it took was the absence of a blatant stereotype to increase their interest in math. While I don’t expect television commercials to get better anytime soon – pop culture is full of persistent tropes – it turns out that we’ve got a fix for the negative effects of these stereotypes. The cure is female math teachers.”

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