Testing the Impact of Appearance on Individuals Perceived Association with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields
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Testing the Impact of Appearance on Individuals Perceived Association with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields

  • Author(s): Shropshire, Jessica
  • Advisor(s): Johnson, Kerri
  • et al.
Abstract

Women and racial minorities remain underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)—career fields historically dominated by White men. This lack of representation results in missed opportunities for individual advancement and the advancement of STEM fields broadly. Here, I propose that a perceived visual mismatch between identity-based appearance cues with STEM domains is one such factor that can help explain marginalized individuals' lack of representation in STEM career fields. Overall, I propose that the extent to which an individual is associated with STEM is driven by visual indices of sex, gender, and race. Study Set 1 examined the role of gendered appearance in STEM-linked career judgments over and above the effect of sex alone. Results indicated that observers associated facial femininity with humanities career fields and facial masculinity with STEM career fields. These patterns occurred for judgments of faces that varied naturally (Study 1a) and that were systematically manipulated (Study 1b). And this pattern replicates in a between-subjects design where participants make independent judgments of STEM or humanities rather than a forced choice categorization between the two (Study 1c). As such, Study Set 1 provides convergent evidence and causal support that being facially feminine weakens STEM associations. Study Set 2 examined whether gendered visual cues similarly affect the perceived association with STEM for Black and Asian men and women or whether the congruence between occupational stereotypes and race stereotypes dictate perceivers career judgments. Results from Study Set 2 implicated both a relation between occupational and race stereotypes as well as gendered visual cues as factors in STEM-linked career judgments. These patterns occurred for judgments of faces that varied naturally (Study 2a) and that were systematically manipulated (Study 2b). Taken together, these results provide new insights into how facial femininity might impact a range of consequential judgments and the role that sex, gendered appearance, and race play in simultaneously impacting individuals’ perceived fit within career domains.

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