Ambient belonging: how stereotypical cues impact gender participation in computer science

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Dec;97(6):1045-60. doi: 10.1037/a0016239.


People can make decisions to join a group based solely on exposure to that group's physical environment. Four studies demonstrate that the gender difference in interest in computer science is influenced by exposure to environments associated with computer scientists. In Study 1, simply changing the objects in a computer science classroom from those considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., Star Trek poster, video games) to objects not considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., nature poster, phone books) was sufficient to boost female undergraduates' interest in computer science to the level of their male peers. Further investigation revealed that the stereotypical broadcast a masculine stereotype that discouraged women's sense of ambient belonging and subsequent interest in the environment (Studies 2, 3, and 4) but had no similar effect on men (Studies 3, 4). This masculine stereotype prevented women's interest from developing even in environments entirely populated by other women (Study 2). Objects can thus come to broadcast stereotypes of a group, which in turn can deter people who do not identify with these stereotypes from joining that group.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Computers*
  • Cues*
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Georgia
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Informatics / education*
  • Male
  • Organizational Culture
  • Social Identification
  • Social Perception*
  • Stereotyped Behavior / physiology
  • Stereotyping*
  • Students / psychology