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Systemizing: A cross-cultural constant for motivation to learn science



The present study is based on the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory of cognitive science. It was hypothesized that the influence of students' gender on their motivation to learn science is often overestimated in the research literature and that cognitive style is more important for motivation than students' gender. By using structural equation modeling, and based on previous research, a precise causal model was formulated to test this hypothesis. Then, using multiple group confirmatory analysis, the model was tested in a cross-cultural context that included four countries—Malaysia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Turkey—and 1,188 upper secondary students. Data were collected using standard questionnaires on cognitive style and motivation to learn science. The results showed full mediation of systemizing—the second dimension of the E-S theory—between gender and motivation. That is, gender had no direct impact on motivation, but systemizing explained 27% of the variation in students' motivation scores. The indirect impact of gender was significant but very low; it explained 1.5% of the variance, in favor of boys. Empathizing—the first dimension of the E-S theory—had no impact on students' motivation scores. This causal model proved to be similar (invariant) in all four cultures. The results suggest that considering students' cognitive style, instead of or in addition to their gender, could lead to a better understanding of students' motivation to learn science. Science teaching methods that support both cognitive styles—systemizing and empathizing—could enhance students' learning of science. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 50: 1047–1067, 2013

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