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In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Agent Scully from the popular television program The X-Files stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, primetime television role. This report presents the findings of the first systematic study of the influence of Dana Scully on girls and women pertaining to STEM (i.e., the “Scully Effect”). The primary questions of this research are whether Scully’s character improved women’s perceptions of STEM fields, whether she inspired girls and women to go into a STEM profession, and whether female viewers see Scully as a role model. This study was conducted by 21st Century Fox, the Geena Davis Institute, and J. Walter Thompson Intelligence.

Key Findings

  • STEM representation increases STEM self-confidence in women: Among women who are familiar with Scully’s character, 63% say Scully increased their confidence that they could excel in a male-dominated profession.
  • Role models matter: Among women who are familiar with Scully’s character, 91% say she is a role model for girls and women.
  • Countering gender stereotypes is notable: Women in the sample were asked about various attributes of Scully’s. The most frequently used words to describe her were “smart,” “intelligent,” and “strong”.


  • Increase counter-stereotypical depictions of STEM characters: Among the factors identified as contributing to this gender gap is a stereotype frequently rendered in entertainment media: a lone, “nerdy” scientist in a lab coat, commonly portrayed as a “mad scientist” or a socially awkward white man. This portrayal reinforces the belief that science is a male pursuit, one that is held by many children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Increase counter-stereotypical depictions of STEM environments: Defy the “boys’ club image” in set design and in creating STEM spaces. For example, high school classrooms decorated with stereotypical male-coded themes (e.g., Star Trek posters) diminished girls’ interest in taking a STEM course. Girls’ interest matched boys’ only when posters of art and nature replaced what the study calls “geeky” decor, but boys’ interest was not negatively impacted by the classroom environment.
  • Encourage female STEM characters on-screen: Studies have identified many causes of the STEM gender gap, including stereotypes, lack of early encouragement from parents and teachers, and gender discrimination in STEM fields.

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