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Self-to-prototype similarity as a mediator between gender and students’ interest in learning to code

Janine Neuhaus, Andreas Borowski


There is scarcely any other field in which women are so underrepresented as they are in computer sciences. Socio-psychological literature suggests that students are more likely to engage in domains they perceive as fitting their identity (Kessels, Heyder, Latsch & Hannover, 2014). As the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) prototype (e.g. a typical student interested in computer sciences) is linked with agentic-masculine traits (e.g. competitiveness) and not with communal-feminine traits (e.g. helping others), most girls regard STEM subjects as incompatible with their self-view. We investigated whether coding courses for students linked with communal goals were more attractive to girls compared to coding courses associated with agentic goals. We assumed greater self-to-prototype similarity would mediate the link between the students' gender and their interest in learning to code. Based on structural equation modeling with 459 German ninth- and tenth-grade students, our results confirm our hypothesis: girls showed greater interest in learning to code if course descriptions were focused on communal goals, while boys showed greater interest under the agentic-goal condition. As expected, self-to-prototype similarity mediated the relationship between gender and interest in the communal coding course. With regard to the agentic coding course, we found only a partial mediating effect. Our results provide recommendations for the development of STEM interventions that encourage the inclusion of female students.



Computing; coding; STEM; gender identity; self-to-prototype similarity; mediation analysis

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