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Br J Educ Psychol. 2006 Dec;76(Pt 4):761-80.

What goes well with physics? Measuring and altering the image of science.

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  • 1Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Berlin, Germany.



In view of the shortage of students majoring in science, we examined the image of physics in terms of students' implicit, automatic associations with physics.


To describe the specific image of physics that might alienate students (difficulty, masculinity, heteronomy) and test an intervention for altering the image.


In Study 1 the sample consisted of 63 school students (11th grade) and in Study 2 the sample consisted of 71 undergraduates.


Study 1 measured participants' implicit associations between physics (relative to English) and the image dimensions of difficulty, masculinity and heteronomy, implicit attitudes towards and identification with physics using latency data (Implicit Association Test; IAT) and explicit attitudes using a questionnaire. Study 2 was an experimental treatment that required reading a text (treatment group) that emphasized the importance of discourse and creativity for science versus a school textbook for physics (control group).


implicit attitudes (IAT).


Students in Study 1 associated physics (relative to English) more easily with words referring to difficulty (than to ease), to males (than to females), to heteronomy (than to self-realization), to unpleasantness (relative to pleasant words) and to others (relative to words referring to self). The three image aspects of difficulty, masculinity and heteronomy predicted explicit attitudes. Participants in the treatment group in Study 2 showed a significant reduction of the IAT effects compared to the control group.


The findings indicate that students' negative explicit attitudes towards physics coincide with negative implicit associations about physics. An intervention addressing the alteration of implicit associations proved to be fruitful. Implications for science education are discussed.

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