Effects of reading contextualized physics problems among men and women: A psychophysiological approach


Isaac Bouhdana, Patrick Charland, Lorie-Marlène Brault Foisy, Hugo G. Lapierre, Pierre-Majorique Léger, Geneviève Allaire-Duquette, Patrice Potvin, Steve Masson, Martin Riopel, Mohamed Amine Mahhou

To counteract declining interest in science, contextualizing course material has been suggested, despite little evidence supporting this strategy. We assessed how reading physics problems in different contexts–none, technical, or humanistic–impacted performance and implicit cognitive and affective situational interest (SI) among undergraduate men and women (n = 60). We hypothesized that contextualized problems would increase cognitive SI, boosting performance. We also investigated existing hypotheses that this influence would be stronger when contexts matched stereotypical gender interests. Pupillometric and electroencephalographic data served to indicate cognitive SI, while electrodermal activity (EDA) and valence were measures of affective SI. Significantly higher valence was observed in decontextualized than humanistic problems (p = 0.003) specifically among men (p < 0.001). Greater EDA (p = 0.019) and decontextualized problems (p < 0.001) yielded greater performance than contextualized problems for all participants. Results emphasize the importance of affective SI and of avoiding gender biases in curricular development. This study encourages caution if implementing contextualization.

How to quote this publication
Bouhdana, I., Charland, P., Foisy, L.-M. B., Lapierre, H. G., Léger, P.-M., Allaire-Duquette, G., Potvin, P., Masson, S., Riopel, M., & Mahhou, M. A. (2023). Effects of reading contextualized physics problems among men and women : A psychophysiological approach. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 30, 100199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2023.100199
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