Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 1049–1071

Alien or Alike? How the Perceived Similarity Between the Typical Science Teacher and a Student’s Self-Image Correlates with Choosing Science at School


DOI: 10.1007/s11165-011-9230-9

Cite this article as:
Kessels, U. & Taconis, R. Res Sci Educ (2012) 42: 1049. doi:10.1007/s11165-011-9230-9


By applying the self-to-prototype matching theory to students’ academic choices, this study links the unpopularity of science in many industrialized countries with the perceived gap between typical persons representing science (e.g. physics teachers) on the one hand and students’ self-image on the other. A sample of N = 308 Dutch and German students described both themselves and typical teachers representing different school subjects using 65 trait adjectives. The following hypotheses were tested: The typical hard sciences teacher and the typical languages teacher will be perceived as differing in their personal characteristics. The typical physics teachers will be perceived as being less similar to students' own self-image than teachers representing languages. Actual choices students make during secondary school should correlate with the perceived fit between students’ self-image and the prototype of teachers representing different school subjects, especially in the less frequent and less popular choices of a math or physics major/profile. The findings supported these hypotheses. The discussion stresses that students acquire not only knowledge about science but also about science culture (sensu Aikenhead) in their science classes and that students’ image of science teachers can influence their academic choices.


Academic choices Physics Science culture Self-to-prototype matching Teachers 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Educational PsychologyUniversität zu Köln, HFKölnGermany
  2. 2.Eindhoven School of EducationEindhovenThe Netherlands