Public Release: 

Changing stereotypes key to getting girls interested in computer science

University of Washington

Stereotypes can be a powerful force in discouraging girls from pursuing careers in computer science.

Two new University of Washington studies examine how stereotypes -- that computer scientists are mostly geeky, brilliant and socially awkward males -- effectively steer girls away from computer science. And the papers give some practical insights for how educators can counteract the stereotypes and make the field more inclusive.

The work is by three UW researchers: Sapna Cheryan of the UW psychology department, and Andrew Meltzoff and Allison Master of UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

In one study, the UW team reports that female computer science teachers can help high school girls be interested in the field, especially if the girls are worried about negative computer science stereotypes. The study was done with hundreds of Seattle-area students, is not embargoed and will be published in an upcoming issue of the International Review of Social Psychology.

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In the second paper, published online Feb. 11, the same group of researchers make the case that broadening the image of who computer scientists are is an effective way to counteract the stereotypes. They point to various lines of evidence, including depictions of computer scientists in the media, that suggest girls use the stereotypes they see in society to form impressions of whether they fit or don't fit in the field. The work suggests simple ways to shift those stereotypes. For more information:

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