By: Raeya Maswood

In the latest issue of the journal, Feminism & Psychology, Vaid and Geraci (2016)  examined the recognition and representation of women in the field of cognitive science/neuroscience. Examination of indicators of professional leadership and recognition demonstrated that the visibility of women in cognitive science is lacking, with men holding more leadership positions overall. This and other research on STEM suggests that gender parity is not sufficient for diversity. Appropriate and accurate recognition and greater positions of influence held by women is needed to change the face of cognitive science and STEM in general.

Background on Cognitive Science:

-Unlike general psychology where the majority of PhDs are women, as a subfield of psychology, in cognitive science women have been earning roughly 50% of doctorates

-Cognitive Science emerged from stereotypical male-dominated fields, computer science, military science, philosophy

-Documented cases from the 1800s find that despite completing requirements, women were delayed in receiving their doctorate degrees

-Barriers have existed for women to join and attend scientific societies. Vaid and Geraci (2016) cite the example of the cognitive psychologist, Margaret Floy Washburn, the first woman to receive a PhD in psychology. Despite being a student of EB Titchner, she was excluded from joining the society Titchner formed, “The Experimentalists.” This society later restructured into the Society of Experimental Psychologists, finally allowing women members after Titchner’s death in 1927.

“The Experimentalists” prior to the inclusion of women in 1927

-There is potentially less of a leaky pipeline issue: training in cognitive science is more oriented towards research and academic positions than other areas of psychology focusing on both academic and industrial positions in the workforce

-As a field traditionally, cognitive science investigates underlying mental, thinking processes irrespective of gender and culture

Margaret Floy Washburn: cognitive/experimental psychologist, 1st woman Ph.D., 2nd woman to elected to National Academy of Sciences, 2nd woman APA President

In their recent study, Vaid & Geraci (2016) examined (1) Indicators of Leadership: representation on governing boards for cognitive science/psychology societies, as editors of journals and on editorial boards, and (2) Indicators of Professional Recognition: recognition as fellows and awards. Data included were from top professional societies, and peer-review journals in cognitive science/neuroscience.

Across a number of indicators, the researchers found that the visibility and recognition of female cognitive scientists is disproportionately low, while the majority of influential leadership positions are held by men.

There are fewer women:

-With leadership roles in governing boards of professional scientific societies

-As editors and on the editorial boards of top cognitive psychology journals (20%)

-Receiving junior level and lifetime achievement awards (15%)

-Invited as key note speakers at conferences (33%)

-Applying for grants and funding

From Vaild, J. & Geraci, L. (2016). V. An examination of women’s professional visibility in cognitive psychology. Feminism & Psychology, 26 (3), 292-319.

The gender gap in cognitive science is reflective of the general state of psychology as a field. Only 34% of full professorships in psychology at research universities is held by women.  This is despite that the majority of students earning psychology doctorates are women. However, Vaid & Geraci (2016) did show some, yet slow encouragement. The percentage of women Fellows in these societies are proportionate, and the number of women receiving junior-level awards have increased in recent years.

 “…whatever progress women have made in terms of achieving parity with men in earning PhDs in cognitive psychology has not resulted in parity in professional development.” (Vaid & Geraci, 2016)

For the past 30 years, the number of Ph.Ds. earned by women and men in cognitive science has been comparable. However, the examined gender gap in positions of recognition and leadership do not reflect this balance. These trends in cognitive science bear resemblance to the the state of STEM, where gender and racial gaps persist. While reasons for the gender gap can be wide-ranging, solutions can be proposed, assessed and implemented. Mentorship programs for women and minorities in STEM have been shown to be beneficial for youth. However, to avoid leaks further in the pipeline, junior and early career scientists may benefit from mentorship programs along the progress of their career. Furthermore, more diversity initiatives can be beneficial to invite and include more women and minority scientists as: society and board members, speakers and journal editors.

Resources: Women in Cognitive Science, Women in Science & Engineering

References: Vaid, J., & Geraci, L. (2016). V. An examination of women’s professional visibility in cognitive psychology. Feminism & Psychology, 26(3), 292-319.



Posted by:Cognitive Ties

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