Décor Makes a Diference

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Could minor changes to a room's décor cause girls to have three times more interest in taking a computer science course taught in it?  Absolutely, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington.  The result is a testament to the power of cultural geek stereotypes. 

In the first image, the classroom contains geeky posters and a bobble head.  Moreover, the room is messy, with magazines and electronics strewn on the floor.  The environment fits snugly with the stereotype of the socially awkward male computer geek.

How would you change the classroom environment in order to shatter that stereotype?  The Washington researchers tidied up and replaced the Star Trek posters and bobble head with nature posters.  Then they added lamps, a plant and water bottles.  Here's how the same classroom looked afterward:

Boys' interest in taking computer science wasn't affected by the change in décor, but girls shown the "non-stereotypical" décor had three times as much interest.   The authors say, "Girls may avoid computer science courses because current prevailing stereotypes of the field signal to them that they do not belong. However, providing them with an educational environment that does not fit current computer science stereotypes increases their interest in computer science courses."

Here's how Gizmo Garden parent Murray Perce phrased it when picking up his daughter from a Gizmo Garden program, "I entered the room and I saw the colors, the lights, the kids, the projects, and it seemed to me androgynous, in the sense that it was accessible to all -- the males and the females in the room.

This study was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.  Authors:  Allison Master, Sapna Cheryan, and Andrew Meltzoff.