The way we see scientists portrayed in books, movies, and television shows shapes the way we think about science in general. It also affects whether we can relate to the idea of being a scientist. This is especially important for women, who are underrepresented in most science fields. That’s part of what makes the Scully Effect so remarkable.
What is the Scully Effect?
Dana Scully was a character on the iconic television show The X Files. She was one of the first visible examples of a female scientist on a long-running television show. And it turns out that Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of the character changed the way viewers thought about the role of women in science.
According to a blog published by Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology (WWEST) on Simon Fraser University’s website (cited below), “a phenomenon called ‘The Scully Effect’ has been anecdotally reported among fans of the TV show The X-Files and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.”
In 2017, WWEST started a project called Media Depictions of Women in STEM “to evaluate how woman characters in STEM are depicted in popular media and how this might shape viewers’ ideas of women’s role in STEM (especially viewers in elementary and secondary school).”
They also reported that “a study by the Geena Davis Institute has examined just how much the character of Dana Scully has influenced girls and women to focus on STEM in their schooling and careers.”
What does the research show?
There were 2,021 participants in the study, in which :
– 63% of women who were familiar with Dana Scully said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM.
– 50% of those same women said Scully increased their interest in STEM.
– 43% of women who were medium to heavy viewers of The X-Files were influenced to consider working in STEM fields by Scully.
– 27% were convinced to actually study STEM.
Gillian Anderson said of “The Scully Effect”:
“At the time that Scully showed up [in 1993], we didn’t see that type of female represented very much at all out in the world of television, which is what we look to more and more as examples of who we are and to help make sense of us as human beings. And so, to suddenly have an appealing, intelligent, strong-minded female who was appreciated by her pretty cool male coworker was an awesome thing to behold, and I think that a lot of young women said, ‘That’s me. I’m interested in that. I want to do that. I want to be that.’”
Other research has shown that children tend to associate men with science around age seven due to cultural depictions of men in books, shows, and films. But when this can be prevented by also showing women as scientists, girls are more likely to believe that science is a general career path open to them as well. — WTF fun facts