But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist!: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists

Abstract

Two studies examined whether subtle variations in feminine appearance erroneously convey a woman’s likelihood of being a scientist. Eighty photos (half women) of tenured/tenure-track science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) faculty at elite research universities were selected from the Internet. Participants, naïve to the targets’ occupations, rated the photos on femininity and likelihood of being a scientist and an early childhood educator. Linear mixed model analysis treated both participants and stimuli as random factors, enabling generalization to other samples of participants and other samples of stimuli. Feminine appearance affected career judgments for female scientists (with increasing femininity decreasing the perceived likelihood of being a scientist and increasing the perceived likelihood of being an early childhood educator), but had no effect on judgments of male scientists. Study 2 replicated these findings with several key procedural modifications: the presentation of the stimuli was manipulated to either be blocked by gender or completely randomized, questions pertaining to the stimuli’s appearance were removed, and a third career judgment likelihood rating was added to avoid tradeoffs between scientist and early childhood educator. In both studies, results suggest that for women pursuing STEM, feminine appearance may erroneously signal that they are not well suited for science.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Aronson, J., Lustina, M. J., Good, C., Keough, K., Steele, C. M., & Brown, J. (1999). When white men can’t do math: Necessary and sufficient factors in stereotype threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35(1), 29–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J., & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(4), 390–412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bafumi, J., & Gelman, A. E. (2006). Fitting multilevel models when predictors and group effects correlate. Retrieved from http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/item/ac:125243

  4. Barr, D. J., Levy, R., Scheepers, C., & Tily, H. J. (2013). Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language, 68(3), 255–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bar-Tal, D., & Saxe, L. (1976). Physical attractiveness and its relationship to sex-role stereotyping. Sex Roles, 2(2), 123–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bell, A., & Jones, K. (2015). Explaining fixed effects: Random effects modeling of time-series cross-sectional and panel data. Political Science Research and Methods, 3(1), 133–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Betz, D. (2012, September 11). The trouble with Barbie science. Scientific American. Retrieved from scientificamerican.com.

  8. Betz, D. E., & Sekaquaptewa, D. (2012). My fair physicist? Feminine math and science role models demotivate young girls. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(6), 738–746.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., Sadler, M. S., & Jenkins, C. (2002). The role of Afrocentric features in person perception: Judging by features and categories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 5–25.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., & Chapleau, K. M. (2004a). The influence of Afrocentric facial features in criminal sentence. Psychological Science, 15(10), 674–679.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Blair, I. V., Judd, C. M., & Fallman, J. L. (2004b). The automaticity of race and Afrocentric facial features in social judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(6), 763–778.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Blair, I. V., Chapleau, K. M., & Judd, C. M. (2005). The use of Afrocentric features as cues for judgment in the presence of diagnostic information. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35(1), 59–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Carnevale, A. P., Strohl, J., & Melton, M. (2013). What’s it worth?: The economic value of college majors. Georgetown University Institutional Report. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/whatsitworth-complete.pdf

  14. Carpinella, C. M., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Politics of the face: The role of sex-typicality in trait assessments of politicians. Social Cognition, 31(6), 770–779.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2011). Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(8), 3157–3162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Cheng, C. (2008). Marginalized masculinities and hegemonic masculinity: An introduction. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 7(3), 295–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cheryan, S., Plaut, V. C., Davies, P. G., & Steele, C. M. (2009). Ambient belonging: How stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1045–1060.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Cheryan, S., Siy, J. O., Vichayapai, M., Drury, B. J., & Kim, S. (2011). Do female and male role models who embody STEM stereotypes hinder women’s anticipated success in STEM? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(6), 656–664.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Cheryan, S., Drury, B. J., & Vichayapai, M. (2012). Enduring influence of stereotypical computer science role models on women’s academic aspirations. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(1), 72–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Clark, H. H. (1973). The language-as-fixed-effect fallacy: A critique of language statistics in psychological research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12(4), 335–359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Diekman, A. B., Brown, E. R., Johnston, A. M., & Clark, E. K. (2010). Seeking congruity between goals and roles: A new look at why women opt out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. Psychological Science, 21(8), 1051–1057.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. (2012). Social role theory. In P. van Lange, A. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories in social psychology (pp. 458–476). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Eccles, J. S. (1987). Gender roles and women’s achievement-related decisions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11(2), 135–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Ellemers, N., Van den Heuvel, H., Gilder, D., Maass, A., & Bonvini, A. (2004). The underrepresentation of women in science: Differential commitment or the queen bee syndrome? British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(3), 315–338.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 981–993.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Friedman, H., & Zebrowitz, L. A. (1992). The contribution of typical sex differences in facial maturity to sex role stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(4), 430–438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Galinsky, A. D., Todd, A. R., Homan, A. C., Phillips, K. W., Apfelbaum, E. P., Sasaki, S. J., … Maddux, W. W. (2015). Maximizing the gains and minimizing the pains of diversity: A policy perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(6), 742–748.

  29. Glick, P., Larsen, S., Johnson, C., & Branstiter, H. (2005). Evaluations of sexy women in low and high status jobs. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(4), 389–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hahn, A., Banchefsky, S., Park, B., & Judd, C. M. (2015). Measuring intergroup ideologies positive and negative aspects of emphasizing versus looking beyond group differences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(12), 1646–1664.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Hannover, B., & Kessels, U. (2004). Self-to-prototype matching as a strategy for making academic choices: Why high school students do not like math and science. Learning and Instruction, 14, 51–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hartman, H., & Hartman, M. (2008). How undergraduate engineering students perceive women’s (and men’s) problems in science, math and engineering. Sex Roles, 58, 251–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hehman, E., Carpinella, C. M., Johnson, K. L., Leitner, J. B., & Freeman, J. B. (2014). Early processing of gendered facial cues predicts the electoral success of female politicians. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(7), 815–824.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Heilman, M. E. (2012). Gender stereotypes and workplace bias. Research in Organizational Behavior, 32, 113–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hewlett, S., Luce, C., Servon, L., Sherbin, L., Shiller, P., Sosnovich, E., … Sumberg, K (2008). The Athena factor: Reversing the brain drain in science, engineering, and technology. Watertown: Harvard Business School.

  36. Irwin, J. R., & McClelland, G. H. (2003). Negative consequences of dichotomizing continuous predictor variables. Journal of Marketing Research, 40(3), 366–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Ito, T. A., & Urland, G. R. (2003). Race and gender on the brain: Electrocortical measures of attention to the race and gender of multiply categorizable individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(4), 616–626.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Judd, C. M., Westfall, J., & Kenny, D. A. (2012). Treating stimuli as a random factor in social psychology: A new and comprehensive solution to a pervasive but largely ignored problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(1), 54–69.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Kenny, D. A. (1994). Interpersonal perception: A social relations analysis. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Khazan, O. (2012, June 22). E.U.’s ‘Science, it’s a girl thing’ campaign sparks a backlash. The Washington Post. Retrieved from www.washingtonpost.com

  41. Kievit, R., Frankenhuis, W. E., Waldorp, L., & Borsboom, D. (2013). Simpson’s paradox in psychological science: A practical guide. Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 4, 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  42. McClelland, G. H., & Judd, C. M. (1993). Statistical difficulties of detecting interactions and moderator effects. Psychological Bulletin, 114(2), 376–390.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Moss-Racusin, C. A., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(41), 16474–16479.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Murphy, M. C., Steele, C. M., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Signaling threat: How situational cues affect women in math, science, and engineering settings. Psychological Science, 18(10), 879–885.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2015). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2015. Special Report NSF 15–311. Arlington, VA. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/

  46. Perrett, D. I., Lee, K. J., Penton-Voak, I., Rowland, D., Yoshikawa, S., Burt, D. M., … Akamatsu, S. (1998). Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness. Nature, 394(6696), 884–887.

  47. Plaut, V. C., Thomas, K. M., & Goren, M. J. (2009). Is multiculturalism or color blindness better for minorities? Psychological Science, 20(4), 444–446.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Pronin, E., Steele, C. M., & Ross, L. (2004). Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(2), 152–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Purdie-Vaughns, V., Steele, C. M., Davies, P. G., Ditlmann, R., & Crosby, J. R. (2008). Social identity contingencies: How diversity cues signal threat or safety for African Americans in mainstream institutions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(4), 615–630.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Raudenbush, S. W. (2009). Adaptive centering with random effects: An alternative to the fixed effects model for studying time-varying treatments in school settings. Education Finance and Policy, 4(4), 468–491.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Rhoton, L. A. (2011). Distancing as a gendered barrier understanding women scientists’ gender practices. Gender and Society, 25(6), 696–716.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Rosnow, R. L., & Rosenthal, R. (1991). If you’re looking at the cell means, you’re not looking at only the interaction (unless all main effects are zero). Psychological Bulletin, 110(3), 574–576.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Sczesny, S., & Kühnen, U. (2004). Meta-cognition about biological sex and gender-stereotypic physical appearance: Consequences for the assessment of leadership competence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(1), 13–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  54. Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder: Westview.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Shields, S. A. (2008). Gender: An intersectionality perspective. Sex Roles, 59(5), 301–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Snijders, T. A., & Bosker, R. J. (1994). Modeled variance in two-level models. Sociological Methods & Research, 22(3), 342–363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 656–666.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5), 797–811.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. Tenenbaum, R., & Leaper, C. (2003). Parent–child conversations about science: The socialization of gender inequities? Developmental Psychology, 39(1), 34–47.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. Wells, G., & Windschitl, P. (1999). Stimulus sampling and social psychological experimentation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(9), 1115–1125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Westfall, J., Kenny, D. A., & Judd, C. M. (2014). Statistical power and optimal design in experiments in which samples of participants respond to samples of stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 2020–2045.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17(7), 592–598.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. Wolsko, C., Park, B., Judd, C. M., & Wittenbrink, B. (2000). Framing interethnic ideology: Effects of multicultural and color-blind perspectives on judgments of groups and individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), 635–654.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. Zamon, R. (2015, August 4). #ILookLikeAnEngineer reminds us that anyone can (and should) be an engineer. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/08/04/ilooklikeanengineer_n_7934098.html

  65. Zebrowitz, L. A., Tenenbaum, D. R., & Goldstein, L. H. (1991). The impact of job applicants’ facial maturity, gender, and academic achievement on hiring recommendations. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21(7), 525–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah Banchefsky.

Ethics declarations

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved the research presented in the manuscript. This research did not receive external funding.

Conflict of Interest

There were no conflicts of interest in conducting this research.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Banchefsky, S., Westfall, J., Park, B. et al. But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist!: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists. Sex Roles 75, 95–109 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0586-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Gendered appearance
  • Stereotypes
  • Femininity
  • Face perception
  • Physical appearance
  • Science
  • STEM
  • Sexism