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“That’s Not Me”: STEM Stereotypes, Self-Concepts, and Motivation


Professionals in physical sciences, technology, engineering, and math (pSTEM) are often stereotyped as male geniuses who are also socially awkward, unattractive, individualistic, and unsuccessful in romantic relationships. These stereotypes may demotivate some individuals from pursuing pSTEM. However, they may also enhance motivation among individuals who feel that they fit the stereotype. Using balanced identity theory and expectancy-value framework, my dissertation investigated the effect of trait-based stereotypes about people in pSTEM among 310 high school students. I examined six trait-based stereotypes about pSTEM (male, genius, individualistic, socially awkward, unattractive, and romantically unsuccessful) and their related self-concepts. Stereotype endorsement was related to pSTEM identity and motivation. However, the direction of the relationship was moderated by a student’s own self-concepts. When a student’s self-concepts (self-perceived competencies or goals) were congruent with a stereotype, the stereotype was positively related to identity and motivation (stereotype lift). However, when self-concepts were incongruent, holding the stereotype was negatively related to a student’s identity and motivation (stereotype threat). Additionally stereotype threat occurred more often for girls, while stereotype lift happened more often for boys. Thus, the concordance between students’ trait-based stereotypes about pSTEM and self-concepts may help explain current gender gaps in pSTEM.

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