This project will investigate the development and emergence of spatial gender stereotypes (and their relation to math gender stereotypes) in elementary school-aged children and their impact on parent-child interactions in the pre-school period.
There is currently a gender gap in STEM fields, such that females participate at lower rates and have lower career attainment than their male counterparts. While much research has focused on gender differences in math attitudes, little work has explored how attitudes in a closely related STEM domain, spatial reasoning, may also contribute to the observed gender gap. The proposed research will characterize the acquisition of gender stereotypes in childhood in two key domains critical to success and participation in STEM fields: math and spatial skills. Recent evidence suggests that children acquire math gender stereotypes (i.e., the belief that "math is for boys") as early as 1st - 2nd grades, but less is known about children's attitudes about spatial abilities. This project will be one of the first to investigate the development and emergence of spatial gender stereotypes (and their relation to math gender stereotypes) in elementary school-aged children, and their impact on parent-child interactions in the pre-school period.
Eight behavioral studies involving 1290 children (Pre-K - 4th graders), 240 caregivers, and 180 adults will participate in studies that evaluate an integrated theoretical model of the relations between gender, gender stereotypes, attitudes, and abilities in the domains of math and space. In Series 1, studies will characterize the emergence of and assumptions behind spatial- and math- gender stereotypes in 1st - 4th graders, while determining how they may be acquired. In Series 2, studies will explore the real-world impacts of spatial-gender stereotypes on STEM participation and achievement in childhood. Lastly, Series 3 studies will explore the malleability of these stereotypes in the hopes of identifying ways to ameliorate their impact early in development. The project will provide training for doctoral graduate and undergraduate students. Moreover, this project will support new and ongoing collaborations with local children's museums, which facilitate interactions and communication with families, educators, and the public about the research findings. By being some of the first work to uncover the developmental origins and consequences of math and spatial stereotypes, this work may inform possible future interventions to reduce and/or eliminate the perpetuation of these stereotypes in children, long before they can have greater lifelong impacts.