Monday, November 29, 2010


I'm a little slow about reading Science (the journal). Sometimes there's good stuff, but more often than not, I'm just not that interested, and there are other journals that have many more articles of direct relevance to my research. Sometimes, though, Science gives exposure to articles that, while outside my research area, are still interesting and even useful. Last week's (which I finally got around to skimming today) included this article, in which physics students were asked to either write an essay about their most important values (the affirmation group) or an essay about why something they don't value might be important to others (the control group).

Women (but not so much men) who wrote about their own core values did better on exams and better on the tests than those who wrote about someone else's values. The effect was particularly pronounced for women who start out believing men are better at physics than women. The thinking of the authors is that when people reaffirm their values while in a hostile environment, they basically remind themselves of their own worth and that allows them to perform better. Men apparently don't find physics classes quite such a hostile environment, so the exercise did nothing for them.

So, if you, or a girl you know, is entering into a learning environment that might be considered hostile in some way, perhaps a little directed journaling at the beginning of the experience, focused on core values and why she finds them important, will remind her what a talented, awesome woman she is and provide a buffer that will aid her in learning.


  1. Very interesting. I'm curious to see how my sister-in-law fares in mechanical engineering. She seems confident in that choice right now, but she's only a freshman. The other day she had someone, in response to her telling them her planned major, say, "But, you're a girl!". I'm hoping she'll continue to brush such comments off as easily as she did that one.

  2. Wow, someone actually said that? Is she at BYU? Oh wait, I remember similar things being said at tech. I hope she finds some good friends who can provide some positive peer pressure--and some success to bolster her confidence.

    The science article is getting some press:

    On one hand, I hope exercises like this become commonplace; on the other, I worry that their effectiveness would be diluted if students know what's going on. Still, any steps that can be taken to reduce the hostility of an environment (or increase student's resilience in the face of hostility) is a good thing.