It's no revelation that kids feed off other kids. If enough teenagers think something's stupid, others will no doubt fall in line. Likewise, if their friends think something is cool and exciting, kids will jump on the bandwagon — and that's good news for science.
When students become fascinated in the science classroom, that enthusiasm can be infectious and can lead to a stronger interest in STEM-related careers as well as better grades. Researchers from Florida International University led a project in which they surveyed more than 2,000 students at 50 randomly selected colleges and universities across the U.S., asking them about their high school experiences. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances.
They found that how a student perceived their peers' interest in science had a significant impact on their science career choices. That's even after accounting for differences in their family's level of support for science, prior interest in STEM classes, academic achievement, gender and the quality of their teachers.
"People have been found to readily catch the emotions of others, and we see this happening in science classroom environments," lead researcher and FIU professor Zahra Hazari said in a statement. "This really emphasizes the importance of having engaging environments to hook students to science and motivate them towards learning."
This positive contagious effect was found in high school biology, chemistry and physics classes. The researchers discovered that even students who had previously shown no interest in science later ending up showing greater interest in science careers when they saw high levels of interest from their fellow students.
Hazari and study co-researcher Geoff Potvin, also of FIU, are members of the university's STEM Transformation Institute. They plan to do follow-up research to understand how teachers can create better classroom environments to motivate students and make them feel confident about tackling these important subjects.