Single-sex versus co-educational schooling: Reasoning strategies, individual beliefs and the flow of information in response to a controversial topic

Open Access
Brunner, Stephanie Karen
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lynn Susan Liben, Thesis Supervisor
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Honors Advisor
  • single-sex schooling
  • gender stereotypes
  • adult reasoning
  • opinion formation
  • school structure
  • sex differences in learning
In September 2011, “The pseudoscience of single-sex schooling” was published in Science by a team of eight psychologists, debunking the evidence in support of single-sex schooling and concluding that there are no documented advantages to single-sex schooling that can be attributed to the single-sex structure of the school itself. Their conclusion catalyzed an overwhelming response from national media and the general public. The aims of this study were to categorize these responses in order to examine the “real world” of gender stereotypes, and to attempt to simulate the response to this controversial situation in a random sample. College students read either the aforementioned Science article or a response/summary article published in The New York Times and responded to a variety of survey questions that gauged their opinions of single-sex schooling and their beliefs regarding gender stereotypes, gender essentialism, and feminism. In the general public, the incorporation of personal experience and the endorsement of other gender stereotypes were the most common reasoning strategies, as compared to the use of scientific content or evidence and the mention of school as preparation for the real world among survey participants. No significant differences in opinions of single-sex schooling based upon individual characteristics were found. These results provide useful insight into the reasoning strategies employed by adults when presented with a controversial issue and demonstrate the need for future research to identify relationships between opinion of single-sex education, gender, and individual beliefs as a means for assisting policymakers with future decisions regarding the structure of public education.