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Cracking the Code: What’s Keeping Women from Watching Deep Look’s Science Videos? No Easy Answers

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A test image from the survey, "Examining the Causes of Audience Gender Disparity in KQED’s Deep Look Science Videos”

Tiny spiders play an arachnid version of “I Spy” from their lofty tree-housed turrets. Curious?

If the idea sparked an inquisitive mind state, it could make you more likely to both pursue and engage with science video content, according to research investigating viewership of KQED’s Deep Look YouTube science videos. Science curiosity is highly predictive of intending to watch, actually watching, and being engrossed in scientific videos. In contrast, science comprehension doesn’t have as strong of a predictive effect. Whether you understand the science or not, it’s science curiosity that predicts whether you’ll click the “play” icon.

The above are just a couple of findings emerging from research this year investigating Deep Look’s viewership motivations and predictors: what encourages viewing and predicts its likelihood across a battery of demographics — gender, age, science curiosity, and science comprehension among them. Most notably, contrary to previous research conducted by the Cracking the Code team, this recent study did not find a gender disparity in research participants’ intention to watch science-themed media.

The science curiosity levels and the decision to watch Deep Look’s videos between men and women were at parity. In other words, highly science curious men were not more likely than highly science curious women to click to watch, nor were low science curious women less likely than low science curious men to click away and choose not to watch. The disparity found was between previous research and current findings, rather than men and women.

In this study, the two demographic groups most likely to engage with Deep Look content were young science curious men and older science curious women. Despite societal perception to the contrary, younger generations do not seem to be less science curious across the board — or any less likely to be engrossed when viewing scientific content — than preceding generations.

Speaking of engrossing, researchers also set out to determine whether particularly gross-sounding video titles would be more of a turnoff for female than male potential viewers. They had also hoped to determine whether including more cues that science is for women too — listing the female host in the video title, including the host’s image in the video thumbnail, or including a cartoon woman in the thumbnail — might reduce or eliminate the previously observed gender disparity.

However, since the expected gender disparity did not emerge in the research results — and that disparity was identified as a logical precondition to looking for a disgust-sensitivity or stereotype-response disparity between the genders — the intriguing possibilities couldn’t be tested, and must remain in the realm of query and theory for the time being.

Below is a summary of the study’s key findings.

1. Science curiosity is a key motivator of viewing Deep Look videos; science comprehension is not. You don’t need a Ph.D. in chemistry, just a dash of curiosity to have a look at, and maybe even get hooked on, science videos.

2. Diverging from previous findings — and researchers’ expectations — the gender disparity previously found in Deep Look viewership was not replicated in this study. Men and women were not significantly different in terms of their intention to view or engagement when viewing Deep Look videos. This finding held among science curious men and women and not-so science-curious men and women alike.

3. Because a gender gap wasn’t detected (in this study), the research team was unable to test their novel “stereotype threat” and “disgust sensitivity” hypotheses. Namely that stereotypes about men’s superior science skills and women’s higher disgust sensitivity may account for the viewership gender disparity. Past research suggests that perceived stereotypes can hinder women’s math and science performance (an effect not seen when participants are explicitly told that men and women perform comparably). Previous studies have also indicated (albeit less robustly) that women tend toward greater disgust sensitivity than men. Neither the “stereotype threat” nor the “disgust sensitivity” was tested in this study because the gender disparity in viewership was not replicated.

4. Among the most likely to be highly absorbed with Deep Look videos were older, science curious women (women in the baby boomer and silent generations, aged 57 and above.) Along with young, science curious men, this demographic demonstrated the most engagement with the content of the science-themed videos.

The lack of gender disparity found in this study makes for a head-scratching puzzler. But if not iteration and discovery, what is science about? Future research has a great deal to look into and discover more about the nature of Deep Look’s gender disparity (or lack thereof) as the work continues.

“As is often the case in scientific research,” the team writes, “we are left with more questions than when we started.” Frustrating? Perhaps. But we prefer to think of it as a perfect example of the true process of scientific discovery or simply, being curious.

You can read the full report, “Examining the Causes of Audience Gender Disparity in KQED’s Deep Look Science Videos” here and attached below.

Cracking the Code

Further research into Deep Look’s gender disparity is being conducted in a follow-up study that examines Deep Look’s titles in depth and the type of titles and content that might be more appealing to women. To learn more visit kqed.org/crackingthecode.

About this Post's Author: Natasha Strydhorst is a doctoral student of media and communication at Texas Tech University and is currently a part of the Cracking the Code research team.

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