A new study has indicated that simple writing exercises can improve women's performance in science.
The writing exercise seems particularly beneficial to female students who tend to subscribe to the negative stereotype that males perform better in physics, said the researchers.
This simple writing exercise-aimed at re-affirming an individual's core values-appears to narrow the gap and level the playing field for women who find themselves in this frequently stereotyped demographic.
Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado at Boulder and colleagues from Colorado and California suggested that similar value-affirmation exercises might help to close the gender gap further.
The new experiment follows a previous study by some of the same researchers about the positive long-term effects of a similar writing exercise on African American seventh graders at a public school.
In the new study, Miyake and his colleagues tested 399 male and female college students in an introductory physics class.
During the first and fourth weeks of the class, the researchers asked a randomly selected group of the students to write about their personally important values, such as friends and family, for 15 minutes.
Other students were randomly placed into a control group and asked to write about their least important values and to explain why they might be important to other people.
The values-affirmation exercise turned out to be a promising intervention that appears to provide a measurable boost for women-but not for men-during both their in-class multiple-choice exams and a national, standardized test of conceptual mastery of physics, said the researchers.
"These results tell us that writing self-affirming essays improved the affirmed women's exam performances by alleviating their anxiety related to being seen in light of negative stereotypes about women in science," said Miyake.
The research appeared in the journal Science.