Writing in the journal Sex Roles, Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington and colleagues say the stereotype, when perpetuated by the media, has a chilling effect on women pursuing a qualification in computer science.
In a study, when 293 college students from two U.S. West Coast universities were asked to provide descriptions of computer science majors, both women and men offered an image of computer scientists as technology-oriented, intensely focused on computers, intelligent but socially unskilled.
Despite years of effort, the researchers said, it has proven difficult to recruit women into many fields that are perceived to be masculine and male-dominated, including computer science, but when the "nerd" image is downplayed in the print media, women express more interest in further education in computer science.
"Broadening the image of the people in the field using media representations may help to recruit more women into male-dominated fields such as computer science," they wrote. "Moreover, the media may be a powerful transmitter of stereotypes, and prevent many women from entering these fields."