Navigating Social Roles in Pursuit of Important Goals: A Communal Goal Congruity Account of STEM Pursuits


Correspondence to: Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA.



Our exploration of communal goal processes in decisions about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers integrates research on goal pursuit processes with research on stereotyping and on social role occupancy. Social roles encompass expectations and resources that can originate from group membership in broad social categories, such as gender, ethnicity, or nationality, or from more narrowly focused occupational and family roles. Our review elaborates on three ways in which social roles intersect with goal pursuit processes, with particular attention to how communal goals influence STEM pursuits. First, social roles influence goal selection or what goals are prioritized generally and at a particular time. Second, beliefs about social roles can influence the kinds of roles that people shy away from or seek out. Third, occupying a particular social role can actually facilitate or impede goal progress. With regard to STEM pursuits, we demonstrate that communal goals are valued both generally by people and especially by women, and that consensual stereotypes describe STEM fields as less likely to afford communal goals than other occupational roles. However, emphasizing the communal aspects of STEM fields elicits greater positivity toward these roles. Finally, we explore the ways in which STEM occupational roles are or might be enacted in communally-oriented ways. The goal congruity perspective thus can offer a unifying framework to integrate an understanding of the social structure – that is, roles and contexts – with the social cognition of the individual – that is, critical motivational and cognitive processes.