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Does Stereotype Threat Affect Creative Thinking in Female Engineering Students? A Behavioral and Neurocognitive Study

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

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Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

NSF Grantees: Diversity 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

6

DOI

10.18260/1-2--34478

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https://peer.asee.org/34478

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71

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Paper Authors

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Rafal Jonczyk Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, and Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-2268-3792

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Rafał Jończyk (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Faculty of English of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. His main research interests concern the behavioural and neurocognitive correlates of emotion anticipation, perception, and production in the first (L1) and second (L2) language(s). His recent research interests include the investigation of brain dynamics during creative ideation and the extent to which creative ideation may be modulated by prior knowledge and training.

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Yushuang Liu Pennsylvania State University

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Yushuang Liu is a graduate student in Psychology and Language Science at Penn State. She is generally interested in natural speech processing using electroencephalogram. She has been actively involved in creativity projects examining how to facilitate divergent thinking abilities in engineering students.

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Danielle S. Dickson Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Dickson received her a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2016 with a dissertation examining the memory system's representation of numerical information, using behavioral and electrophysiological (EEG, brainwaves) measures. She extended this work into comparisons of children and adults' arithmetic processing as a postdoctoral scholar at The University of Texas San Antonio. Presently, she is incorporating more flexible forms of creative thinking as an area of postdoctoral research at The Pennsylvania State University to contrast with more fact-based arithmetic numerical comprehension.

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Gül E. Okudan Kremer Iowa State University of Science and Technology

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Gül E. Kremer received her PhD from the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering of Missouri University of Science & Technology. Her research interests include multi-criteria decision analysis methods applied to improvement of products and systems. She is a senior member of IIE, a fellow of ASME, a former Fulbright scholar and NRC Faculty Fellow. Her recent research focus includes sustainable product design and enhancing creativity in engineering design settings.

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Zahed Siddique University of Oklahoma

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Zahed Siddique is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering of University of Oklahoma. His research interest include product family design, advanced material and engineering education. He is interested in motivation of engineering students, peer-to-peer learning, flat learning environments, technology assisted engineering education and experiential learning. He is the coordinator of the industry sponsored capstone from at his school and is the advisor of OU's FSAE team.

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Janet van Hell Pennsylvania State University

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Janet van Hell (PhD, University of Amsterdam) is Professor of Psychology and Linguistics and Co-Director of the Center for Language Science at the Pennsylvania State University. She is interested in the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying language processing in monolingual and bilingual children and adults, including creative language use.

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Abstract

Undergraduate education is a formative and intellectually creative period during which students develop identities as STEM professionals capable of producing scientific knowledge and creating technological innovations. Although creativity and divergent thinking are among the key success ingredients for STEM professionals, little is known about underlying neurocognitive processing and its behavioral manifestations. The overarching goal of this NSF-funded research program (DUE IUSE-1726811) is to examine the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying creative thinking, with a specific focus on female and male engineering students.

Although women have earned 57% of all bachelor's degrees since the late 1990s, the gender distribution is uneven across different fields (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2015). For example, in 2012 women earned 70% of the U.S.'s bachelor's degrees in psychology, but only 19% of the bachelor's degrees in engineering. Nationwide, the relatively low percentage of women engineering majors has remained stable over the past 15 years, even though other STEM fields (e.g., biology, chemistry, life sciences) have seen a steady and substantial gain in the percentage of women majors (Cheryan, Ziegler, Montoya, and Jiang, 2017; Yoder, 2014). Gender gaps in STEM majors as engineering have important societal and professional implications, because these fields miss out on potential contributions of talented women and on benefits of gender diversity within organizations, including greater creativity, innovation, and collective intelligence (Cheryan et al., 2017; Page, 2007; Seymour and Hewitt, 2007; Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, and Malone, 2010).

Why are some STEM disciplines, such as engineering, not able to educate and graduate a higher number of women? In their review paper on differences in gender disparity across different STEM fields, Cheryan et al. (2017) identified negative stereotypes of women’s abilities as one of the two main factors associated with the social-cultural environment that contribute to the relatively low representation of women in certain STEM fields (the second factor is scarcity of relatable female role models). Moreover, undergraduate women majoring in engineering, computer science, or physics (STEM fields with the largest gender disparities) reported greater concerns about being stereotyped negatively because of their gender than women majoring in STEM fields with no or smaller gender disparities, such as biology (Cheryan et al., 2017). One persistent stereotype of women’s abilities relates to their perceived lack of creativity. Research has shown that men are perceived as being more creative than women, and individuals are more likely to associate creativity and innovative work behavior with men than with women (e.g., Luksyte, Unsworth, and Avery, 2018; Proudfoot, Kay, and Koval, 2015).

In the present research project, we investigated how creative thinking in female and male engineering students is affected by group dynamics, in particular feedback expressing negative stereotypes in the form of a stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is a self-confirming belief that one may be evaluated based on a negative stereotype. Individuals targeted by this negative stereotype feel pressure to avoid being judged in light of the stereotype and worry that they inadvertently confirm it through their performance in that domain. Specifically, a US-based longitudinal study found that experiences of stereotype threat among women made them more likely to leave engineering, science, and mathematics majors (Beasley and Fischler, 2012). In the study reported here, engineering students completed creative thinking tasks while the electrical activity of their brain was recorded using electroencephalography (EEG). Halfway the experiment, the experimenter and a male undergraduate student-assistant delivered a stereotype threat. The critical question is to what extent female and male students’ creative thinking is affected by a stereotype threat, as indexed by changes in behavioral and brain activity measures before and after the delivery of the stereotype threat.

Experiment. Twenty-seven female undergraduate students have participated so far. They were asked to generate novel ideas to common objects (Alternative Uses Task) or come up with solutions to hypothetical situations (Utopian Situation Task) while their EEG was recorded to assess task-related changes in spectral power in the alpha frequency band (e.g., Fink et al., 2007). Half of the items in both tasks related to engineering knowledge and half to general knowledge. Halfway the experiment, participants were allowed a short break, during which the experimenter and a male undergraduate student entered the testing room and performed a scripted conversation with the female participant, which had the aim of inducing a stereotype threat.

Behavioral results. The analysis of the behavioral data focused on ideational fluency (i.e., the number of generated ideas) in both the Alternative Uses Task and Utopian Situations Task, taking into account item type (engineering, non-engineering) as well as the impact of the stereotype threat by comparing idea generation pre- and post-threat implementation. A within-subject repeated measures ANOVA model (Item Type (engineering, non-engineering) × Stereotype Threat (before, after) × Task (Alternative Uses Task, Utopian Situations Task)) showed that in the Utopian Situations task, more ideas were generated for non-engineering items than for engineering items, but no such difference was obtained in the Alternative Uses Task. Importantly, the stereotype threat did not impact performance in either the Alternative Uses Task or the Utopian Situations Task.

Electrophysiological results. Based on previous studies (e.g., Fink and Benedek, 2014), we computed task-related power (TRP) changes in the lower and upper alpha band during creative ideation periods before and after the administration of stereotype threat. TRP values in the lower alpha band (8–10 Hz) and upper alpha band (10–12 Hz) were analyzed separately by means of two Repeated Measures (RM) ANOVA, with Stereotype threat (pre vs. post), Hemisphere (left vs. right) and Channel location (6 per each hemisphere: fronto-anterior left (FP1, F3, F7), fronto-anterior right (FP2, F4, F8), fronto-central left (FC1, FC5), fronto-central right (FC2, FC6), centro-temporal left (C3, T7), centro-temporal right (C4, T8), centro-parietal left (CP1, CP5), centro-parietal right (CP2, CP6), parietal left (P3, P7), parietal right (P4, P8), parieto-occipital left (PO9, O1), parieto-occipital right (PO10, O2)), as within-subject variables. The RM ANOVA in the lower alpha band revealed greater alpha event-related synchronization (ERS) in the right compared to the left hemisphere channels. Importantly, the effect of threat was also significant, with more increased alpha-ERS in the post-threat than the pre-threat. This increased alpha-ERS in the post-threat compared to the pre-threat condition occurred across all channel locations. The RM ANOVA in the upper alpha band reported similar results. There was greater ERS in the right than in the left hemisphere. Again, there was increased alpha-ERS during ideation in the post-threat relative to the pre-threat condition.

In conclusion, the behavioral findings indicate that the stereotype threat did not affect the number of ideas female students generated (i.e., ideational fluency) in the Alternative Uses Task and the Utopian Situations Task. Interesting, brain activity associated with ideation during these tasks showed an increase in task-related power (TRP) changes in the lower and upper alpha frequency bands after the delivery of the stereotype threat. Building on earlier research (e.g., Fink and Benedek, 2014) that found that EEG alpha power increases as fluency and originality of ideas generated during the Alternative Uses Task increases, the neurocognitive findings suggest that the stereotype threat boosted rather than restrained creative thinking in females.

References Beasley, M. A., and Fischer, M. J. (2012). Why they leave: The impact of stereotype threat on the attrition of women and minorities from science, math and engineering majors. Social Psychology of Education, 15, 427–448. Cheryan, S., Ziegler, S. A., Montoya, A. K., and Jiang, L. (2017). Why are some STEM fields more gender balanced than others? Psychological Bulletin, 143, 1-35. Fink, A. and Benedek, M. (2014). EEG alpha power and creative ideation. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 44, 111-123. Fink, A., Benedek, M., Grabner, R. H., Staudt, B., and Neubauer, A. C. (2007). Creativity meets neuroscience: Experimental tasks for the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. Methods, 42(1): 68-76. Luksyte, A., Unsworth, K. L., and Avery, D. R. (2018). Innovative work behavior and sex-based stereotypes: Examining sex differences in perception and evaluations of innovative work behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39(3), 292-305. National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2015). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015. Internal report, National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. Page, S. E. (2007). The difference: How the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools, and societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Proudfoot, D., Kay, A. C., and Koval, C. Z. (2015). A gender bias in the attribution of creativity: Archival and experimental evidence for the perceived association between masculinity and creative thinking. Psychological Science, 26(11), 1751–1761. Seymour, E., and Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., and Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330, 686–688.

Jonczyk, R., & Liu, Y., & Dickson, D. S., & Okudan Kremer, G. E., & Siddique, Z., & van Hell, J. (2020, June), Does Stereotype Threat Affect Creative Thinking in Female Engineering Students? A Behavioral and Neurocognitive Study Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34478

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