An experiment which asks children to draw a researcher has revealed how gender stereotypes are slowly changing over time.
The study, from researchers at Northwestern University and published in the Child Development, looked at how children’s gender‐science stereotypes have changed over the last five decades by analyzing the U.S “Draw‐A‐Scientist” study.
The team used ‘meta-analysis’ to look at a huge range of data and investigated stereotypes which linked men with science.
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The Draw‐A‐Scientist studies included pictures dating back to the 1960s. The Draw-A-Scientist study (DAST) tests children’s perceptions of the scientist by simply asking them to “Draw a scientist”. Typically, around 5000 primary school children in three countries complete drawings each year.
Children draw what they see… if we can change these representations, young girls might more easily be able to envision a future for themselves in science Toni Schmader, a psychological scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada
Unlike other studies, it offers an ‘indirect measure’ of a child’s attitudes and beliefs as it does not require children to consciously report their own stereotypes – a child doesn’t know the study is anything other than a drawing task.
The results showed that while in the 1960s and 1970s 99.4% of children drew a male scientist, that after 1985 the dropped to 72%. In 2016 over a third of drawings portrayed a female scientist.
Lead author David Miller believes this shift is the result of an increasing number of women becoming scientists, and television shows and children’s magazines featuring female scientists more often.
The study also explored how stereotypes changed as kids grew up. Images from the 1980’s onwards showed that 70% of girls and 17% of boys aged 6 drew female researchers, but by the age of 16, 25% of girls and only 2% of boys sketched female scientists.
The studies findings reinforce the importance of needing to show children more about women’s roles in modern science as these types of stereotypes affect what children think they can and cannot do.