First Advisor

Dalton Miller-Jones

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science: Psychology


Systems Science




Museum exhibits -- Design and construction, Equality -- Psychological aspects, Sex differences (Psychology), Science museums -- Exhibitions



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 186 p.) : ill. (chiefly col.)


Gender equity has been a national and global aim for over half a century (Ceci & Williams, 2007; National Center for Education Statistics, 2003; National Science Board, 2008). While gains have been made, one area where inequity remains is spatial reasoning ability, where a large gender gap in favor of males has persisted over the years (Else-Quest, Linn, & Shibley Hyde, 2010; National Science Board, 2008; Ruble, Martin, & Berenbaum, 2006). This gender gap in spatial reasoning has had substantial societal impact on the career interests of females in areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), contributing to the larger societal need to engage non-dominant groups in these fields to reduce outsourcing (Ceci & Williams, 2007; Jaschik, 2007; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009; White, 1992). Both spatial reasoning ability and STEM career interest have been related to science museum visits (Hamilton, Nussbaum, Kupermintz, Kerkhoven, & Snow, 1995; Salmi, 2001, 2002). However, researchers have also found a gender gap in favor of males in regard to science museum attendance and experiences once at the museum (Borun, 1999; Crowley, 2000). There are many suggestions for increasing female engagement at science museums and creating equitable experiences, but few have been systematically studied (Kekelis, Heber, & Countryman, 2005; Koke, 2005; Maher, 2005; Taylor, 2005). This research investigated gender equitable exhibit development by enhancing a geometry exhibit with several female-friendly design features and analyzing video data to determine the effects on girls' engagement and social interactions with their caregivers. The findings suggest that incorporating several female-friendly design features leads to significantly higher engagement for girls (evidenced by greater attraction and time spent). This study also looked for any unanticipated negative effects for boys after incorporating the female-friendly design features. It is encouraging that this study was unable to detect any unintended negative effects for boys; however, such non-significant results are inconclusive and should not dissuade future research and design teams from continuing to check for unanticipated ill effects of female-friendly design features for boys. While the positive effects for girls were significant, it is important to note that they were not significantly more positive for girls than for boys; further research is needed to determine whether the female-friendly design features create a more equitable experience for girls, or a more positive experience for everyone. This study did not identify any significant differences in parent-child verbal social interactions between the two versions of the exhibit; however, the pattern of results suggests that gender discrepant parent explanations, as found by Crowley, 2001 in a children's museum, may be less of a concern for girls in science centers, providing an interesting area for future study. This research presents evidence to support incorporating female-friendly design features in future science exhibit development projects, and indicates areas where future studies are still needed to gain a deeper understanding of their effects.


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Portland State University. Systems Science Ph. D. Program

Persistent Identifier