BUFFALO, N.Y. -- 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
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 Personality and
Social Psychology Bulletin.
The article can be read at /content/dam/www/news/imported/pdf/August11/ParkRomanticAttitudes.pdf
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
"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
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
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
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
Results showed that on days when women 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.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.