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Are Boys Left Behind at School?

In several studies, we investigate whether, and to what extent, stereotypes about school and learning as a whole show a comparatively poorer fit to boys' self-image or to notions of masculinity. For example, in the German Research Foundation (DFG)-funded research project " Are Boys Left Behind at School?" we investigated the highly debated question of whether school is perceived as "feminine" (Heyder & Kessels, 2013). Further studies (summarized in Kessels, et al., 2014) focused on which school behaviors lead adolescents to be perceived by their peers as particularly masculine or feminine - and how this can explain boys' lower engagement in school (Heyder & Kessels, 2017). The perspective of teachers was also examined in this context: What are the consequences of boys strongly emphasizing their masculinity in the context of school? (Heyder & Kessels, 2015) We also examined how norms of masculinity clash with behaviors conducive to learning (such as academic help-seeking) and how this affects boys' school performance (Kessels & Steinmayr, 2013a) and the extent to which gender differences in general attitudes toward school can be explained by gender-typical interest profiles (Kessels & Steinmayr, 2013b). Finally, we examined how personality traits can explain the contradictory gender gap in school and vocational success. Here, we showed that school or vocational success can be predicted by some of the same traits (e.g. intelligence), but also that different personality traits predict success in school (e.g. agreeableness) or one’s career (need for dominance) and that gender differences in these personality traits mediate gender differences in success (Steinmayr & Kessels, 2017).

Selected publications:

Heyder, A. & Kessels, U. (2013). Is school feminine? Implicit gender stereotyping of school as a predictor of academic achievement. Sex Roles, 69(11-12), 605-617. http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0309-9

Heyder, A. & Kessels, U. (2015). Do teachers equate male and masculine with lower academic engagement? How students’ gender enactment triggers gender stereotypes at school.Social Psychology of Education, 18, 467-485. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11218-015-9303-0

Heyder, A. & Kessels, U. (2017). Boys don’t work? On the psychological benefits of showing low effort in high school. Sex Roles, 77, 72-85. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0683-1

Kessels, U. & Heyder, A. (2020). Not stupid, but lazy? Psychological benefits of disruptive classroom behavior from an attributional perspective. Social Psychology of Education, 23, 583-613. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-020-09550-6 

Kessels, U., Heyder, A., Latsch, M. & Hannover, B (2014). How gender differences in academic engagement relate to students' gender identity. Educational Research, 56(2), 219-228. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2014.898916

Kessels U. & Steinmayr, R. (2013a). Macho-Man in school: Toward the role of gender role orientation and help-seeking in school performance. Learning and Individual Differences, 23, 234-240. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2012.09.013

Kessels, U. & Steinmayr, R. (2013b). Der subjektive Wert von Schule in Abhängigkeit vom verbalen und mathematischen Selbstkonzept [Valuing school as a function of verbal and mathematical ability self-concepts]. Zeitschrift für Pädagogische Psychologie, 27(1-2), 105-113. https://doi.org/10.1024/1010-0652/a000093

Steinmayr, R., & Kessels, U. (2017). Good at school= successful on the job? Explaining gender differences in scholastic and vocational success. Personality and Individual Differences, 105, 107-115. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.09.032