Date of Completion


Embargo Period



gender; STEM; performance attributions; success; failure;

Major Advisor

Diane M. Quinn

Associate Advisor

Blair T. Johnson

Associate Advisor

Blanca Rincon

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Four studies examined perceptions of STEM and non-STEM college courses, gender and domain differences in responses to success and failure, and whether interventions to make failure seem normative could ameliorate negative responses to failure, particularly among women. Study 1 found that college students perceive STEM courses as more difficult than non-STEM courses, and believe that introductory STEM courses are used to remove students from those fields. Moreover, the difference in perceptions of STEM and non-STEM courses was larger for women. Study 2 piloted a novel task that was used in Studies 3 and 4. These studies did not support the idea that women are more likely than men to attribute their successes to effort and their failures to ability. However, there was some evidence that women have lower performance expectations, are less likely to believe they can succeed in STEM following failure, and are less willing to take on a challenge. Several of these gender differences were stronger among individuals with a fixed mindset and those who were not majoring in the STEM fields in which women are most underrepresented. In addition, Study 4 found that the normative interventions tested were not effective at promoting more resilient responses to failure among women. Together, these findings suggest that women’s lower confidence in their abilities, particularly in STEM, combined with a general perception of STEM courses as more difficult and the experiences of failure embedded in STEM, may contribute to women’s underrepresentation in STEM, especially in engineering, computer science, and physics.