The Draw a Scientist Test: A Different Population and a Somewhat Different Story

By Thomas, Mark D.; Henley, Tracy B. et al. | College Student Journal, March 2006 | Go to article overview

The Draw a Scientist Test: A Different Population and a Somewhat Different Story


Thomas, Mark D., Henley, Tracy B., Snell, Catherine M., College Student Journal


This study examined Draw-a-Scientist-Test (DAST) images solicited from 212 undergraduate students for the presence of traditional gender stereotypes. Participants were 100 males and 112 females enrolled in psychology or computer science courses with a mean age of 21.02 years. A standard multiple regression generated a model that accounts for the variability in the sexes of drawings consistent with past findings. The focus of this research, however, was in comparing the results of our sample (college students) with previous studies that have that have used the DAST with much younger (e.g., elementary-aged) students. Results were strikingly similar, suggesting either that gender stereotypes are widely persistent even among college science majors, or that the DAST may not be a particularly sensitive measure despite its wide use.

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The Draw a Scientist Test (DAST) was first utilized by Chambers (1983) to examine stereotypic views of scientists among school children. Chambers' initial study examined the strength and presence of "modern sanitized, " and "older mythic, " stereotypic images of the scientist in 4, 807 children's (ages 5 to 11 years) drawings that were collected from 1966 to 1977. Chambers assessed the presence of lab coats, eyeglasses, facial hair, symbols of research, symbols of knowledge, technological aspects, and captions that were believed to represent a stereotypical view of scientists. Chambers reported that 49% of this sample consisted of girls, but participants produced only 28 drawings of female scientists (0.56%). All of these female scientists were drawn by female participants.

Subsequently, Fort and Varney (1989) gathered 1, 654 drawings of scientists through a national contest for 2nd through 12th grade school students. Fort and Varney received 135 drawings of female scientists. They reported that, "the 8% depicted by our respondents is close to reflecting reality, " (p. 9) given their estimate that women then made up roughly 6% of the scientific and engineering workforce at that time.

A careful analysis of DAST images reported by Newton and Newton's (1992) survey of 1, 143 primary school children (ages 4-11) suggests children draw more females at a younger age, but by the sixth school year, males were drawn by 83% of the participants. Following up, Newton and Newton (1998) surveyed 1000 children from reception (the UK equivalent of preschool/kindergarten) to grade 6 and, "...concluded that there were few significant changes to primary pupils' conceptions of science and scientist..." (p. 1148).

Over time, the number of female scientists drawn has slightly increased. This may be due to changes in social perceptions, or to refinements in the measure. For example, Matthews (1994) had 132 children from years 7, 8, and 10 generate two different drawings, out of this total, 66% of the images were male, while 34% were female.

Likewise, Maoldomhnaigh and Mholain (1990) considered the effects of test administration instructions, eventually changing the DAST instructions to "Draw a Man or Woman Scientist." Stated thusly, 367 children (299 females and 68 males) between the ages of 11 and 16 years provided drawings. Although boys in this sample almost exclusively drew males, 49% of the girls drew a female. Brosnan (1999) modified the task by re-framing it as a, "draw-a-computer-user-test." For Brosnan, whose sample consisted of 395 children ages 5 to 11 years, males performed similar to males who complete the standard DAST. Interestingly, 70% of the females drew a female computer user, while only 4% of males drew a female computer user.

Variations of the DAST have been utilized in the U.S. and Canada (e.g., Parsons, 1997), Ireland (e.g., Maoldomhnaigh & Hunt, 1990), Finland (e.g., Raty, 1997), England (e.g., Brosnan, 1999), Korea (e.g., Song & Kim, 1999); and Taiwan (e.g., She, 1998) with similar results. A recurrent finding in the DAST literature is that scientists are stereotyped as being male by girls and this may serve as a limiting factor in their self--efficacy toward becoming scientists. …

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