Women's quest for romance conflicts with scientific pursuits, study finds

Aug 15, 2011

Four new studies by researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that when a woman's goal is to be romantically desirable, she distances herself from academic majors and activities related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The studies, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, were undertaken to determine why women, who have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace over the past few decades, continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of STEM.

The research is described in the article, "Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women's Attitudes toward Math and Science," to be published in the September issue of .

Lead author Lora E. Park, PhD, UB associate professor of psychology and her co-authors, found converging support for the idea that when romantic goals are activated, either by environmental cues or personal choice, women -- but not men -- show less interest in STEM and more interest in feminine fields, such as the arts, languages and English.

Park's co-authors are UB doctoral students Ariana F. Young and Jordan D. Troisi, and Rebecca T. Pinkus, PhD, of the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Park says, "When the goal to be romantically desirable is activated, even by subtle situational cues, women report less interest in math and science. One reason why this might be is that pursuing intelligence goals in masculine fields, such as STEM, conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms."

Park notes that women, in particular, are socialized from a young age to be romantically desirable, and that traditional romantic scripts in Western cultures are highly gendered, prescribing how men and women ought to think, feel and behave in romantic settings.

"Gender scripts discourage women from appearing intelligent in masculine domains, like STEM," Park says, "and in fact, studies show that women who deviate from traditional gender norms, such as succeeding in male-typed jobs, experience backlash for violating societal expectations. On the other hand, men in gender-incongruent occupations don't experience the same degree of backlash as women do."

In Park's studies of more than 350 participants, men and women were exposed to images (Study 1) or overheard conversations (Study 2a, 2b) that cued them to romantic goals or to other types of goals.

In Study 1, participants viewed images related to romantic goals (e.g., images of romantic restaurants, beach sunsets, candles) or intelligence goals (e.g., images of libraries, books, eyeglasses). Participants in Study 2a overheard a conversation about a recent date that someone had gone on (romantic goal condition) or a test that someone had taken (intelligence goal condition). In Study 2b, they overheard a conversation about a romantic date (romantic goal) or about a recent visit from a friend from out of town (friendship goal). After exposure to the romantic, intelligence or friendship goal cues, participants completed questionnaires assessing their interest in STEM vs. other fields and their preference for various academic majors.

Results showed that women (but not men) exposed to cues related to romantic goals reported less positive attitudes toward STEM and less preference for majoring in math or science fields compared to other disciplines. This did not occur when they were exposed to cues associated with intelligence goals or friendship goals.

The final study, Study 3, used a more explicit method of assessing goal pursuit by recruiting women who were interested in pursuing a degree or a career in STEM and asking them to answer questions on a PDA (personal digital assistant) device every night for 21 nights. Specifically, women reported on their daily romantic goal strivings (e.g., "Today, I was trying to be romantically desirable"), intelligence goal strivings (e.g., Today I was trying to be academically competent/intelligent"), romantic activities (e.g., "Today, I called/emailed/texted someone I was romantically interested in"), math course activities (e.g., "Today I did my math homework"), and daily feelings of attractiveness, likability and desirability.

Results showed that on days when pursued romantic goals, they engaged in more romantic activities and felt more desirable, but they engaged in fewer math activities. Furthermore, romantic goal strivings on one day predicted feeling more desirable, but being less invested in math on the following day.

Overall, the findings from these studies show that women's romantic goal strivings, which can be triggered by environmental cues or by personal choice, have important implications for the gender gap in attitudes and interest in math and science.

Park's research investigates questions pertaining to the self, self-esteem, motivation, and interpersonal processes. In particular, she examines how aspects of the person and the situation interact to influence goal pursuit, performance, psychological well-being and interpersonal functioning. Her research has appeared in many professional journals and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Explore further: Less privileged kids shine at university, according to study

Related Stories

Unrequited Love: How to Stay Friends

Jan 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Unrequited romantic feelings don't have to sink friendships, according to research by Michael Motley, a professor of communication at the University of California, Davis.

Observers of first dates can predict outcome, study shows

Jan 30, 2009

When it comes to assessing the romantic playing field -- who might be interested in whom -- men and women were shown to be equally good at gauging men's interest during an Indiana University study involving speed dating -- ...

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

physpuppy
4.9 / 5 (7) Aug 15, 2011
Well I don't know about anyone else, but I find a woman finding a new way to solve Fermat's Last Theorem to be extremely... sexy...
Scottingham
5 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2011
Any lady that knows what the up-regulation of D2 receptors means has a one way ticket to my heart.
leayla
5 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2011
I can dig this - I'm a programming woman and I have periods of days or weeks when I roll into work looking like a scruff in jeans and tshirt, where my job and scientific hobbies are forefront in my mind. I have other days and weeks where I make myself look pretty and socialise more and do my hair nice. It all comes down to time management really. I be whoever I want to be at the time.
Quarl
5 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2011
Sweet beautiful female rocket scientist = Awesome! Add a ponytail = PERFECTION.
Physmet
not rated yet Aug 15, 2011
"And did I mention she's a world famous billionaire
Bikini supermodel astrophysicist?" - Wierd Al, Close But No Cigar :D
Code_Warrior
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2011
I have to ask myself if I want to solve math problems when I am horny and the answer would be a resounding no - I prefer to get laid.

If I then extrapolate this to a horny woman and try to determine if she wants to solve math problems when she is horny, I have to conclude that the answer is a resounding no - she prefers to get laid.

My conclusion, horny people prefer to get laid over doing math problems. Boy, science is fun. Where the hell is my grant money?? I discovered some fundamental shit here!!
Techno1
not rated yet Aug 16, 2011
Sweet beautiful female rocket scientist = Awesome! Add a ponytail = PERFECTION.


Yeah, can I get one of those?

Brown or black hair.

It helps if she can beat me at chess legit.

Smart is sexy.

Thanks.
ROBTHEGOB
not rated yet Aug 16, 2011
Well, this is a conundrum in a paradox. I like science, and I like women. How much of all this is biology, and how much local cultural socialization? I think biology is far more important to human behavior; socialization is just a form of deceit. Women can play all kinds of roles for a variety of reasons; underneath it all is the biologic imperative to reproduce and build nests.
ziphead
1 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2011
so much for women multitasking
Shakescene21
not rated yet Aug 17, 2011
Part of the problem is that women looking for romance might not think they can find it in the laboratry. They might want music, poetry, wine, and laughter instead of the geeky/horny passtimes that we have in mind.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.