Effects of Goal Pursuit on Women’s Performance and Persistence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Using multiple methods (e.g., lab studies, daily diary studies), this research examines how and why the pursuit of romantic-related goals undermines women’s performance in STEM fields and pursuit of these fields. The underlying idea is that women (but not men) may experience conflict between wanting to be romantically desirable and wanting to be intelligent in traditionally masculine fields, such as STEM.


University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Research Design: 

The project is using a cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is causal [experimental]. Original data are being collected on college students using diaries, assessments of learning, and survey research [self-completion questionnaire]. For some of the studies, we recruited students who were enrolled in STEM classes or wanted to pursue a STEM degree or career.

I conducted analysis of variance and multiple regression analyses to examine main effects and interactive effects of gender, gendered beliefs, and romantic goal priming in predicting outcomes such as math performance and interest in majoring in STEM fields vs. other fields.


This research investigates factors that affect women's performance and persistence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Specifically, my research examines the influence of women's romantic partner preferences, gendered beliefs, and goal pursuits related to romantic desirability and intelligence in helping to explain the underperformance and disproportionate dropout rate of women from STEM fields. Whereas men may not experience conflict when pursuing goals related to romantic desirability and intelligence in masculine domains such as STEM, women are theorized to experience significant conflict, such that the pursuit of romantic goals interferes with the pursuit of intelligence goals, particularly in stereotypically masculine domains, such as STEM.

To date, my colleagues and I have found that women (but not men) show less interest in STEM fields (but not other fields) when primed with the goal to be romantically desirable vs. other goals. Moreover, these effects are most evident among women who prefer to date romantic partners who are smarter than themselves. Indeed, women who prefer smarter partners are more traditional in their gender role attitudes in relationships; these women in particular have been found to underperform and to show diminished interest in traditionally masculine domains, such as STEM, when the goal to be romantically desirable is activated.

Publications & Presentations: 

Park, L. E., Young, A. F., Troisi, J. D., & Pinkus, R. T. (2011). Effects of everyday romantic goal pursuit on women’s attitudes toward math and science. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1259-1273.

Press release:

Park, L. E., Young, A. F., Eastwick, P. W., & Troisi, J. D. (2012). Desirable but not smart: Romantic partner preferences and goal pursuit affect women’s math and science outcomes. Manuscript submitted for publication.