Fear of Failure in Swedish 9th Grade Students and its effect on their decision to study STEM : A quantitative study
Sammanfattning: Sweden faces a recruitment problem in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It has been suggested that imposter phenomenon, a feeling of fraudulence and inability to internalize success, may be the reason why many individuals, especially women, leave STEM fields. Fear of failure is theorized to be the main motive underlying imposter phenomenon. In Sweden, students are asked to choose a direction of study already when entering upper secondary school. In the current study, a survey of 1045 ninth grade students from 27 schools throughout Sweden aimed to answer five research questions: (1) How prevalent is fear of failure in grade 9 students in Sweden, (2) How does the prevalence of fear of failure differ between male and female students, (3) and between students with differing levels of achievement, (4) How do students’ fear of failure differ in relation to STEM subjects and other subjects, and (5) Are students with a higher fear of failure less likely to pick a STEM program for their continued education? The results showed that the average Swedish grade 9 student did not experience a high fear of failure, but over one fourth of the students surveyed at least partially agreed with the statements in the Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory, which puts them at risk for suffering negative mental health effects. Females experienced a significantly higher fear of failure, which may be rooted in gender stereotype consciousness. Perceived risk of failure in STEM programs was not a significant predictor for whether students picked STEM programs, and surprisingly, fear of failure was significantly higher in those that would choose to study STEM. It seems that interest in a program and future career opportunities outweighs any potential risks of failure. If students with a high fear of failure are choosing STEM programs, it is important for educators to break them out of the “imposter cycle” of overpreparing and then being unable to internalize their successes. One way to do this is to teach students about the early struggles that famous scientists faced in producing the information they are learning, in order to teach them that failure, or hard work and effort, does not signal a lack of intelligence. The best predictor for students that would choose STEM programs was whether they found mathematics and science classes easy, so sparking interest and demystifying these subjects is one of the keys to the STEM recruitment problem.
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