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Contagious Interest

Students whose classmates are interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are more likely to themselves consider a science career, according to a new study.

Researchers led by Florida International University's Zahra Hazari surveyed some 2,000 students taking required introductory English classes at 50 different US colleges and universities. They asked the students about their interest in a STEM career as well as how interested their high school classmates seemed in their biology, chemistry, or physics courses.

As they report in Science Advances, Hazari and her colleagues found that students who thought their high school peers were interested in science were more likely to say in college that they were pursuing a STEM career than students whose classmates weren't interested. In particular, they found that 65 percent of those whose high school classmates were highly interested in science were considering STEM careers, while 40 percent of students whose high school classmates exhibited low levels of interest in science were exploring STEM careers.

"People have been found to readily catch the emotions of others and we see this happening in science classroom environments," Hazari says in a statement. "This really emphasizes the importance of having engaging environments to hook students to science and motivate them towards learning."