Motivational Factors in STEM: Interest and Academic Self-Concept - Abstract

Margaret E. Beier, Ph.D.
Ashley D. Rittmayer, M.A.
Rice University, Houston, TX

Interest and self-concept influence the choice of pursuing study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and achievement in STEM. Pervasive gender differences, favoring men, are found in STEM-related interests and self-concept. These gender differences are reflected in the number of men versus women in STEM related study and occupations: women still earn fewer degrees in engineering and natural science than men, and women make up approximately 25% of the labor force in STEM fields (AAUW, 2008) and hold only 17% of assistant professor positions in engineering (SWE, 2008).

Interest judgments are defined as relatively stable individual preferences that are focused on objects, activities, or experiences. Congruence between one’s interests and one’s environment leads to greater satisfaction, performance, and persistence in activities. Academic interests are related to a multitude of academic and occupational outcomes including course selection, achievement, and persistence in a given field of study and career. Self-concept is defined as self-perceptions that fundamentally influence behavior (Rosenberg, 1979; Shavelson, Hubner, & Stanton, 1976). Domain-specific self-concept is most predictive of academic choice and performance (e.g., math or verbal self-concept). Examples of self-concept judgments are “I am good at math” and “I enjoy science.”

Interest and self-concept develop through a reciprocal relation with achievement. For example, students often enroll in math and science to fulfill a requirement. After some success in these classes, they may begin to think of themselves as scientists and mathematicians, and they may become increasingly interested in taking more of these classes and pursuing careers related to these fields. As such, achievement experiences in STEM are an important determinant of both interest and self-concept in STEM related disciplines. This literature suite will review the importance of STEM related interest and self-concept for pursing STEM studies, careers, and performance in STEM. In the Information Sheet, we present an illustration of how achievement influences self-concept and interest in STEM. In the Literature Overview, we review the empirical research on the development of self-concept and interest and report on interventions designed to increase self-concept and interest in STEM.

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)