In many countries, the proportion of girls opting to pursue careers in lucrative fields such as engineering and computer science has stagnated. Despite the best efforts of schools, universities and governments, women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called “STEM” subjects. The shortage of women is particularly acute in professions with a heavy focus on maths. But why?
A recent study in PNAS suggests that the answer may lie in differences in ability between boys and girls. But surprisingly, the ability in question is not maths, but reading. In a nutshell, girls who are good at maths tend to be even better at reading, and as a result, many turn away from maths and opt instead to pursue careers that utilise their even stronger language skills. By contrast, boys who are good at maths tend not to show this same advantage in reading, making their decision to stick with STEM subjects much more straightforward.
The UK population continues to grow, while nursing numbers have remained static for several decades. Compounding matters, The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust have reported a 25 per cent increase in nurses and midwives leaving the NHS from 2012 to 2018, from 27,300 to 34,100. In short, in the UK, we now have far fewer nurses relative to the general population than we used to.
What does this mean for patients’ care experience? The situation sounds bad, but how bad? Common sense would suggest that patients will experience poorer care when nurses are overstretched, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that interpretation. But there are also positive stories, and claims about greater efficiency compensating for fewer staff.
Now a study in BMJ Quality & Safety provides direct observational evidence suggesting that lower nurse-patient ratios really do result in poorer health-care interactions.
Randomised experiments (also known as A/B testing) are an absolutely critical tool for evaluating everything from online marketing campaigns to new pharmaceutical drugs to school curricula. Rather than making decisions based on ideology, intuition or educated guess-work, you randomise people to one of two groups and expose one group to intervention A (one version of a social media headline, a new drug, or whatever, depending on the context ), one group to intervention B (a different version of the headline, a different drug etc), and compare outcomes for the two groups.
To anyone who believes in evidence-based decision making, medicine and policy, randomised tests make sense. But as a team led by Michelle N. Meyer at the Center for Translational Bioethics and Health Care Policy at the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, write in PNAS, for some reason A/B testing sometimes elicits moral outrage. As an example, they point to the anger that ensued when Pearson Education “randomized math and computer science students at different schools to receive one of three versions of its instructional software: two versions displayed different encouraging messages as students attempted to solve problems, while a third displayed no messages.” The goal had been to test objectively whether the encouraging messages would, well, encourage students to do more problems, yet for this, the company received much criticism, including accusations that they’d treated students like guinea pigs, and failed to obtain their consent.
It’s well known that science has a diversity problem, with women and members of minority groups being underrepresented. A new study suggests a solution aimed at children – reframing science as something that people do, rather than something that defines their identity, can reduce the potentially off-putting impact of the “white male” scientist stereotype.
According to the paper, published recently in Developmental Science, thoughtful use of language encourages greater interest in science among young children – and makes them less likely to lose confidence in their scientific abilities as they grow up.
Diversity trainings are big business. In the United States, companies spend about £6.1 billion per year, by one estimate, on programmes geared at making companies more inclusive and welcoming to members of often-underrepresented groups (British numbers aren’t easy to come by, but according to one recent survey, over a third of recruiters are planning to increase their investment in diversity initiatives).
Unfortunately, there’s little evidence-backed consensus about which sorts of diversity programmes work, and why, and there have been long-standing concerns in some quarters that these programmes don’t do much at all, or that they could actually be harmful. In part because of this dearth of evidence, the market for pro-diversity interventions is a bit of a Wild West with regard to quality.
For a new paper in PNAS, a prominent team of researchers, including Katherine Milkman, Angela Duckworth, and Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, partnered with a large global organisation to measure the real-world impact of the researchers’ own anti-bias intervention, designed principally to “promote inclusive attitudes and behaviors toward women, whereas a secondary focus was to promote the inclusion of other underrepresented groups (e.g., racial minorities).” The results were mixed at best – and unfortunately there are good reasons to be sceptical that even the more positive results are as positive as they seem.
How much insight do you have into your own mental and emotional abilities, such as verbal intelligence, spatial cognition and interpersonal skills? Might your friends have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses than you do? In a new paper in the journal Heliyon, a team led by Aljoscha Neubauer explain that while such questions of self- vs. other-insight have already been looked at in the context of the main personality traits and general IQ, theirs is the first investigation in the context of more specific abilities. It’s an important issue for young people, they add, since choosing career paths that play to our abilities can increase the chances of later success – but it remains an open question whether and for which abilities people should rely on their own judgments or seek the advice of others.
“Look. You can’t plan out your life. What you have to do is first discover your passion—what you really care about.” Barack Obama, as quoted by David Gergen (cited in Jachimowicz et al, 2018).
If, like many, you are searching for your calling in life – perhaps you are still unsure whether psychology is for you, or which area of the profession aligns with what you most care about – here are five digested research findings worth taking into consideration:
In the UK, this has been a year of action on the gender pay gap (the, on average, lower pay for women compared with men), with cross-party MPs launching campaigns like #PayMeToo and the government taking steps to investigate and hold organisations to account on the issue. This has also attractedpushbackfrom those that argue that the gender difference in average pay has many causes, including the different interests of, and life choices taken by, men and women. Now a study published in Oxford Economic Papers has examined another complicating factor, namely whether the gender pay gap is influenced partly by an on-average difference between the genders in a trait not previously taken into account – the motivation to achieve.
Workplace wellness programmes are an assemblage of wellbeing activities like yoga or cycling clubs, packaged together with diagnostic activities like biometric screenings; their aim is to reduce sickness, increase productivity and cut insurance costs for an organisation’s members. This is big business – in the USA, the market is around $8 billion – with a return-on-investment claim, thanks to a plethora of studies that tout the benefits of these programmes (for example, see this meta-analysis from 2010). But whether staff enter these kind of initiatives in the first place is usually up to them, making it hard to evaluate their effectiveness, as those who choose to participate may differ in key ways from those who do not. To assess the benefits of the programmes accurately therefore requires a randomised-controlled study. This is what the National Bureau of Economic Research published recently, and it leaves these programmes looking sickly.
Juggling home and work commitments is never easy, and yet there’s been surprisingly little research into how either demands – or support – at home or work may spillover into the other context. Does a frustrating or combative workday negatively affect family life that evening, for instance? Or if your partner is emotionally supportive when you both get home, will you “pass it on”, and be more supportive of colleagues the next day? And, are men and women affected in the same ways? A new paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provides some provocative answers.