It is called the Scully Effect. Dr. Dana Scully, portrayed by Gillian Anderson, was one of the first multidimensional female characters in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field to be featured on a popular television show, and the first to play a leading role. She is known for her objectivity, skepticism, confidence, and brilliance. In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime time television role.
Women who watched The X-Files regularly were 50% more likely to work in STEM, and nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed who work in STEM said Scully served as a role model.
“The role of media is to inspire our cultural beliefs or our societal norms, and when you look at 63% of the women who were familiar with Dana Scully said that she increased their belief in the importance of STEM, that’s really a societal norm shift,” says Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute.
Scully’s media depiction of a high-achieving woman in STEM asked a generation of girls and women to imagine new professional options. Commentators have speculated about the “Scully Effect” for two decades – the term coined for this phenomenon – but this is the first research study to evidentially confirm it. Women in our study report that Scully’s character influenced their perceptions of, aspiration for, and involvement in STEM. Beyond paving the way for other characters like her in media (e.g., Bones’ Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, Veronica Mars, Alias’s Sydney Bristow, and Firefly’s Zoe Washburne10), Scully also influenced a generation of young women to study and pursue careers in STEM.
Read the full report here.
Parts of this article were taken from impact.21cf.com.