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Photo by Sapna Cheryan
Just the appearance of science fiction memorabilia, computer game boxes and junk food in a classroom or workplace is enough to create an environment that makes computer science an unattractive field to many women.
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. And when it comes to why girls and women shy away from careers in computer science, a key reason is environment, environment, environment.The stereotype of computer scientists as nerds who stay up all night coding and have no social life may be driving women away from the field, according to a new study published this month. This stereotype can be brought to mind based only on the appearance of the environment in a classroom or an office.
“When people think of computer science the image that immediately pops into many of their minds is of the computer geek surrounded by such things as computer games, science fiction memorabilia and junk food,” said Sapna Cheryan, a University of Washington assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “That stereotype doesn’t appeal to many women who don’t like the portrait of masculinity that it evokes.”
Such objects help create what Cheryan calls ambient belonging, or the feeling that you fit or don’t fit in somewhere.
“It is the sense you get right away when you walk into a room. You look at the objects and make an instant appraisal of how you would fit with the objects and the people who are typically found in that environment. You also make a judgment of ‘I like it here’ or ‘I don’t belong here,'” she said.