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When being a girl matters less: Accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single-sex and coeducational classes and its impact on students' physics-related self-concept of ability

Authors

  • Dr Ursula. Kessels,

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    1. Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Germany
      Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Ursula Kessels, Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany (e-mail: ursula.kessels@fu-berlin.de).
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  • Bettina. Hannover

    1. Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Germany
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Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Ursula Kessels, Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany (e-mail: ursula.kessels@fu-berlin.de).

Abstract

Background. Establishing or preserving single-sex schooling has been widely discussed as a way of bringing more girls into the natural sciences.

Aims. We test the assumption that the beneficial effects of single-sex education on girls' self-concept of ability in masculine subjects such as physics are due to the lower accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single-sex classes.

Sample. N = 401 eighth-graders (mean age 14.0 years) from coeducational comprehensive schools.

Methods. Random assignment of students to single-sex vs. coeducational physics classes throughout the eighth grade. At the end of the year, students' physics-related self-concept of ability was measured using a questionnaire. In a subsample of N = 134 students, the accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge during physics classes was assessed by measuring latencies and endorsement of sex-typed trait adjectives.

Results. Girls from single-sex physics classes reported a better physics-related self-concept of ability than girls from coeducational classes, while boys' self-concept of ability did not vary according to class composition. For both boys and girls, gender-related self-knowledge was less accessible in single-sex classes than in mixed-sex classes. To the extent that girls' feminine self-knowledge was relatively less accessible than their masculine self-knowledge, their physics-related self-concept of ability improved at the end of the school year.

Conclusions. By revealing the importance of the differential accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single- and mixed-sex settings, our study clarifies why single-sex schooling helps adolescents to gain a better self-concept of ability in school subjects that are considered inappropriate for their own sex.

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