Motivation is what helps students achieve their goals in school; it energizes them and drives their behavior. But motivation is not a fixed quality that students bring with them into the classroom — it can be shaped by many cues in the social environment. Our research in the Identity & Academic Motivation Lab (I AM Lab) examines identity and its impact on academic motivation in childhood and adolescence. This work involves:
- how cultural stereotypes about gender and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) contribute to gender gaps in motivation to pursue STEM, and how to counteract the negative effects of stereotypes;
- “wise” educational interventions that provide “identity-safe” cues, which show students that they will not be judged negatively based on their group memberships, including belonging and growth mindset interventions; and
- childhood motivation for STEM learning, including how social connections promote young children’s motivation for STEM tasks.
Our research is at the intersection of learning sciences, developmental psychology and social psychology, applying insights from social psychology to improve equity and STEM learning outcomes for students from preschool through college.
Check out these videos to see more about our research.
Learn more about our research on how stereotypes affect girls’ interest in STEM (Master, Cheryan, & Meltzoff, 2021).
Learn more about our research on how social connections increase children’s STEM motivation and learning (Master, Cheryan, & Meltzoff, 2017).
Why It Matters
Motivation is critically important for students’ academic achievement and success. We focus particularly on STEM education due to persistent inequities. In the U.S., the representation of women varies widely across STEM fields, with the greatest disparities in computer science and engineering.
Gender disparities in STEM fields contribute to many societal inequities, including the existence of products and services that overlook and sometimes selectively harm women and children. Gender disparities in lucrative fields such as computer science and engineering are also a significant source of the gender wage gap.
Important work is being done to remedy this problem in college and the workplace, but our lab starts earlier. Starting earlier can create a strong foundation to set girls and boys on a path toward equity in STEM education. We seek to find high-leverage influences on young girls’ motivation and academic choices, helping them find trajectories where the path to STEM is clear, inviting and free from psychological barriers.
We use experimental, longitudinal and cross-sectional methods to measure students’ beliefs, attitudes and behavior. We combine carefully controlled laboratory studies with studies in schools to gain a more thorough understanding of students’ motivation and academic choices. We believe that everyone benefits from open science and are constantly seeking to improve our use of pre-registration and open data.