The Draw-a-scientist test in an African context: Comparing students’ (stereotypical) images of scientists across university faculties

Author: Lars Guenther – CREST, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Marina Joubert – CREST, Stellenbosch University
Corlia Meyer – CREST, Stellenbosch University

The images that people have of science and of scientists are supposed to represent people’s perceptions of scientists and their role in society (Fung, 2002; Medina-Jerez, Middleton, & Orihuela-Rabaza, 2011). Although researchers assume that (stereotypical) images that people have of scientists affect science-related career choices (Chambers, 1983; Steinke et al., 2007), very few studies have looked at this in detail. The current study not only adds to the research literature through its African context (so far, there is only one study: Mbajiorgu & Iloputaife, 2001), but also applied the Draw-a-Scientist Test (DAST; Chambers, 1983) to first-year students (n = 445) across different faculties at a South African university (cf. Rosenthal, 1993). If the assumption that young people’s perceptions of scientists influence their career choice is correct, one would expect differences in the drawings made by students who have opted for different fields of study. The findings show that South African students – in line with the international research literature – use about four stereotypical characteristics when drawing a scientist; a typical scientist, as identified in this study, is a man of uncertain age, who wears eyeglasses and a lab coat, and is surrounded by laboratory equipment. Also in this study, a low number of male students drew female scientists (only one student in this sample), and the majority of female students drew male scientists (see also Chambers, 1983; Medina-Jerez et al., 2011). Social science students drew stereotypical attributes more frequently when compared to students from other faculties, which might be explained by the lower degree of direct contact with scientists that these students have. To discuss this, the study shows that what is needed – also in an African context – is more contact between students and scientists, and contact between students and female role-models in particular (cf. Barman, 1997).

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication