Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The "Genius Effect"

Contributed by Nell Byler, Russell Deitrick

The Genius Effect - That some fields (namely the hard sciences) require "innate genius" in order to succeed. This can serve to dissuade potential participants, predominantly from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.
Women remain significantly under-represented in STEM fields - the so-called gender gap. While women hold more than half of the PhDs earned in biology, they make up less than 20% of the PhDs in physics and computer science. The authors of this study provide an explanation for the stagnation: the belief that success in a given field requires raw talent combined with stereotypes that men are more likely to possess that raw ability work in tandem to suppress female participation. Fields that had a greater emphasis on brilliance (math, physics, philosophy) subsequently had lower percentages of female PhDs. The trend held true when compared with the fraction of PhDs held by African Americans as well.
Figure 1:
The study found that field-specific ability beliefs correlated with gender disparity and could actually predict the percentage of female PhDs in a field.


Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of other things that are important to success other than "natural ability"?
  • Can you think of ways to introduce material in your Astro 101 labs that could de-emphasize the need for "genius" to succeed?
  • Can fictional geniuses hold back real people?
  • Women in STEM
  • Stereotype threat
  • Gender bias
  • Racial ability beliefs

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