The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women

Abstract

The present research examines undergraduates’ stereotypes of the people in computer science, and whether changing these stereotypes using the media can influence women’s interest in computer science. In Study 1, college students at two U.S. West Coast universities (N = 293) provided descriptions of computer science majors. Coding these descriptions revealed that computer scientists were perceived as having traits that are incompatible with the female gender role, such as lacking interpersonal skills and being singularly focused on computers. In Study 2, college students at two U.S. West Coast universities (N = 54) read fabricated newspaper articles about computer scientists that either described them as fitting the current stereotypes or no longer fitting these stereotypes. Women who read that computer scientists no longer fit the stereotypes expressed more interest in computer science than those who read that computer scientists fit the stereotypes. In contrast, men’s interest in computer science did not differ across articles. Taken together, these studies suggest that stereotypes of academic fields influence who chooses to participate in these fields, and that recruiting efforts to draw more women into computer science would benefit from media efforts that alter how computer scientists are depicted.

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Appendix

Appendix

Study finds computer science continues to be dominated by ‘geeks’

By Pat Atkins, USA TODAY

The recent dot-com bubble may have burst, but no corresponding shift in the type of students attracted to computer science is occurring in universities across the country.

A recent study by researchers Christine M. Pearson of the University of North Carolina and Mike M. Yang of Temple University found a full third of computer science majors describe themselves as ‘geeks,’ a number similar to the one obtained several years ago.

The stereotypical techno-nerds, with their short-sleeve shirts and pencil protectors in their pockets, are just as easy to come by these days. According to Pearson, it is not difficult to “walk around a campus and pick out the students on their way to the computer science department.”

Anyone can see that this image has profoundly been absorbed into the universal consciousness. The first image of a computer science major that pops into mind is still that of a pasty, willowy student in a dorky shirt, face hidden behind bangs and glasses.

Many image experts admit it: In a word association game, ‘Computer Scientist = Geek’ forever.

To observers, computer science continues to be ruled by geeks. And although the past few years has brought a new level of publicity to the field, the basic expectation of the major as populated by geeks who live and breathe programming endures.

Study finds computer science no longer dominated by ‘geeks’

By Pat Atkins, USA TODAY

The recent dot-com bubble may have burst, but its impact on the type of students attracted to computer science in universities across the country appears to be here to stay.

A recent study by researchers Christine M. Pearson of the University of North Carolina and Mike M. Yang of Temple University found that only a third of computer science majors describe themselves as ‘geeks,’ a significant decline from even just a few years ago.

The stereotypical techno-nerds, with their short-sleeve shirts and pencil protectors in their pockets, are hard to come by these days. In fact, it is not difficult to walk around a campus and see a variety of students on their way to the computer science department.

Anyone can see that this change is slowly being absorbed into the universal consciousness. The first image of a computer science major that pops into mind might no longer be a pasty, willowy student in a dorky shirt, face hidden behind bangs and glasses.

Many image experts admit it: In a word association game, ‘Computer Scientist = Geek’ no longer.

To observers, computer science has undergone a de-geeking. The seemingly less nerdy, more well-rounded, and generally more user-friendly student of late is a trend that many hope will mend the battered image of the computer science major.

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Cheryan, S., Plaut, V.C., Handron, C. et al. The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women. Sex Roles 69, 58–71 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0296-x

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Keywords

  • Stereotypes
  • Gender
  • Media
  • Computer science
  • Underrepresentation