Ever seen a very hungry, bright yellow and black-striped caterpillar chomping on an emerald green leaf among the lettuce, tomato and pepper plants in a vegetable patch?
Or a hermit crab peering out from its orange-rimmed, spiral-shaped shell as it scuttles along the white sand on a sun-lit beach?
Or a brilliant blue butterfly gently gliding from one purple flower to another as it sips nectar from a butterfly bush in the flower garden?
What caught your eye?
Chances are that if the bright colors of these creatures stopped you in your tracks, you may be drawn to colorful, visually aesthetic images like many of the women in a study that investigated women’s science engagement with Deep Look nature and wildlife YouTube videos. The purpose of this study was to focus on women’s preferences and identities as related to their intent to engage with promotional content for Deep Look YouTube videos in order to figure out how to attract more women to these videos.
Creating YouTube videos of tiny creatures in a way that draws in lots of different viewers, including women, is hard work. And, it’s a lot more complicated than you might think. Our identities – which include our gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, family roles, political affiliation, occupation, religion, and a variety of other group associations – not only shape who we are but also shape our preferences for science media content and even motivate our decisions to watch or not watch science media.
The KQED PBS Science, San Francisco-based, Deep Look public media team has created more than 140 award-winning, nature and wildlife videos about the tiny creatures in our natural world. And, despite the long-standing popularity of these short, 3- to 4- minute videos, there is a gender gap in viewership. In fact, the Deep Look team has found that for almost every YouTube episode, the percentage of women who watch is considerably lower than the percentage of men. On average, about 70% of Deep Look’s YouTube audience is male and only 30% is female.
So, why is this?
Well, figuring out the pieces to this puzzle of the “missing audience” of women viewers for Deep Look YouTube videos has been explored by a number of earlier studies. And, we know from these studies that while high-science-curiosity women are less likely than high-science-curiosity men to choose to view certain Deep Look episodes, when they do watch them they are just as engaged in the videos as high-science-curiosity men. So, it’s really important to figure out just exactly why women are not finding or scrolling past Deep Look videos on YouTube.
Science writers, science producers, and science engagement specialists from KQED Science Deep Look joined a team of researchers from the University of Connecticut, Missouri State University, and Texas Tech University, with funding from the National Science Foundation, to focus on women’s preferences and identities as related to their science engagement intentions. Findings from this most recent study of the gender disparity in Deep Look viewership suggests that one key piece of the puzzle is related to women’s preferences for images and another key piece of the puzzle is related to the identities that women report as most important to them.
Because the decision to watch or not watch Deep Look YouTube videos occurs after viewing promotional content for the videos, a survey for a national sample of 1,940 women asked women to pick their favorite – and least favorite – thumbnails and titles among 12 different Deep Look YouTube videos. The survey also asked women to describe the reasons for their preferences and their intent to watch the videos. Women could choose from among these featured stars in Deep Look YouTube videos: caterpillar, shrimp, bat, hairworm, lice, kitten, fish, mosquito, butterfly, spider, bumblebee, coral.
Below is a summary of findings from the survey.
- Women’s engagement with science media content is motivated by personal preferences and interests.
- When rating thumbnails and titles for videos they were most likely to watch, women most often indicated they preferred them because they were colorful, interesting and pleasant. Women were most likely to select the “Kitten,” “Butterfly,” Bumblebee” and “Coral” thumbnails and titles as their most preferred.
- When rating thumbnails and titles for videos they were least likely to watch, women most often indicated they preferred them the least because they were disgusting, unpleasant and unfamiliar. Women were most likely to select the “Hairworm,” “Spider,” “Mantis Shrimp” and “Lice” thumbnails and titles as their least preferred.
- Women articulate similar reasons for preferences for science media content. Women were drawn to YouTube thumbnails and titles that are attractive/colorful, interesting/curious, and cute. Women were not drawn to Deep Look YouTube thumbnails and titles that they perceived as disgusting or gross, uninteresting, or for specific insects or animals they disliked.
- Most women report relational identities (i.e., identities of mother/grandmother, friend, and spouse/partner) as most important or central and link them to the choices they make about science media. Women most often described thumbnails and titles that were perceived as attractive/colorful as positive matches with their identities and thumbnails and titles that were perceived as disgusting/gross as bad matches with their identities.
The next step in this study was to learn even more about why women preferred certain Deep Look thumbnails and titles for YouTube videos more than others and to investigate how women’s identities were linked to their preferences. Interviews were conducted with 24 women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and of varied levels of science curiosity.
Below is a summary of findings from the interviews.
- Women value aesthetics when engaging with science media content. Many women – from all Science Curiosity groups – expressed attraction to images that were visually pleasing and colorful. And, perceptions of science content as visually attractive also served as a catalyst for promoting greater interest in the science content, especially for women from low science curiosity groups.
- Science content that appeals to women’s interest and curiosity is another important factor in their engagement with science, although to a lesser extent.
- Perceptions of science content as disgusting or gross was the primary reason that women gave for not liking science content. While this was a reason given by women across all Science Curiosity groups, “Science Open” and “Science Curious” women were somewhat more likely to describe interest in science content following initial negative impressions. For women from all Science Curiosity groups, images of insects featured in Deep Look thumbnails, in particular, were perceived unfavorably and often described as annoying and bothersome.
- Family and other relational identities (mother, grandmother, spouse/partner) appear to be connected to science engagement for many women. A number of women expressed interest in science content that fostered companionship while co-viewing television programs with spouses or partners, teaching children about science or promoting children’s interest in science, and providing friends and neighbors with information to help with personal health concerns.
Findings from both the survey and the interviews highlight the importance of considering how identities, including the relational identities women reported as most important, shape women’s science media choices.
Are you interested in explaining how bees pollinate the blueberries, tomatoes, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables we eat?
Check out how these buzzing bumblebees know the secret to unlocking a secret stash of pollen hidden deep within this flower!
Are you interested in explaining how that brilliant blue butterfly in your garden got its deep, rich, vibrant color?
Check out how structural color creates the beautiful blue hue seen in the wings of the Morpho butterfly!
If you are interested in watching these and other great science and nature YouTube videos and would like to encourage children’s curiosity about science and nature or share interesting and helpful science information with spouses or partners, friends, or neighbors, join the other almost 1.8 million other Deep Look subscribers in taking a very “deep look” at these fascinating, tiny creatures around you.
You can find more information about this study in the full report, “Examining the Role of Identity in Women’s Intent to Engage with Science Content in Deep Look YouTube Videos.”