As most people know, there are persistent barriers and biases that women face in scientific disciplines. But could their relationships be one of them? New research that will be appearing in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin highlights the conflict between the pursuit of romantic relationships and science/math for women.
Unfortunately, as we know, it’s clear that societal norms regarding gender have created very different roles and expectations for females and males. The persistent stereotype is that women are more interested in, and derive their sense of self-identity from, their romantic relationships compared to men, and that their physical appearance is important in attracting a mate. If women believe that studying and working in the sciences will lessen their attractiveness, then their interpersonal and educational/career goals come into conflict with one another.
In this set of studies, the researchers examined whether women’s pursuit of romantic goals would be in conflict with educational and career goals in the sciences, because many women believe that engaging in math and science will make the less desirable mates. In their first two studies, college students were primed with either romantic goals (by showing images or hearing conversations associated with relationships) or intelligence goals, and found that women who were primed with romantic goals were less interested in science and math and had lower preference for math/science-related majors. In addition, women primed with romantic goals had an elevated preference for majors in the humanities (e.g., English and foreign languages). However, no such differences were found for men based on their goal activation.
In their final study they conducted a “daily diary” study, where women currently enrolled in a math course were tracked for three weeks. Each day, participants reported on their goal pursuits for that day, including those related romantic relationships and intelligence. In addition, they noted their daily engagement in math and romantic activities, and also reported on the extent to which they felt desirable. The results indicated “when women were striving to be romantically desirable, they engaged in more romantic activities and felt more desirable but engaged in fewer math activities.”1
This study gives insight into the sad state of gender and the sciences, and highlights the role that goals (and goal conflict) play in women’s decisions about their interests and career paths. The big question remains, however. How can we reduce the conflict between women’s interpersonal and science/math goals?
In the meantime, we need to highlight the fact that science and attractiveness are not mutually exclusive. For example, there is a Facebook group for all of you who believe scientists can be sexy!
1Park, L. E., Young, A. F., Troisi, J. D., & Pinkus, R. T. (2011). Effects of everyday romantic goal puruit on women’s attitudes toward math and science. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Published online May 26, 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0146167211408436
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.