We know that the media we watch has a knack for swaying what we buy, what we wear, and how we act, but how influential is it, really? Studies of the impact of one fictional character, in particular, give us a clue to how we can harness our TV habits for good!

Think back: when you were an 8-year-old and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? And why?

As the only female character in a prominent, ’90s prime time television role working in STEM, Dana Scully of The X-Files had an impact bigger than just providing entertainment. Agent Scully redefined how women saw their futures and how society viewed them in turn. Because of the popularity of this television character, the world of science, technology, engineering, and math has been changed forever.

One fantastic scientist in the media, Vanessa Hill, brings us through how this all worked and the studies that proved it true. And it all begs the question: if one character could have such an astounding impact, how would the world be if everyone saw themselves represented in the media?

Image: scientist in the lab

Source: Pikist

The Scully Effect!

One famous TV scientist has been credited with inspiring a whole wave of people to pursue futures in science, technology, engineering, and math!

It was reported in a study from the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media that women who watched 8 or more episodes of The X-Files were 50% more likely to have worked in STEM fields in their lifetime! 1

Their findings proved what was dubbed as The Scully Effect to be real! But how is it that someone playing a character who works in STEM can inspire so many people to go into those fields, for real?

Well, we move forward by example, don’t we? When we see someone who looks like us doing something, we realize that it’s possible for us as well. Now, there’s science behind this phenomenon.

One of our favorite YouTube scientists—Vanessa Hill, of BrainCraft—brings us through how The Scully Effect may be a part of your life, too!

Check out how it works in this awesome video!

Isn’t it nice to know that all of the hours you spent binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy or Bones could actually pay off? Or is that just me?

If you’d like to dive into more about how the world and our brains work, head on over to BrainCraft’s full library over on YouTube! Don’t forget to subscribe!

How does The Scully Effect show that it’s still an amazing world?

As Vanessa pointed out in the video, we don’t normally see scientists in our daily lives. They’re in the lab or out in the field doing their work, and we’re off doing whatever it is we do. But on TV, our paths cross. We’re given an inside—even if a little dramatized—peek to a world that’s often off limits. And in that moment, new realities open up.

Can you remember any characters, shows, or films that changed how you saw the world?

Maybe it was the spunky problem-solver Veronica Mars or the hilarious cast of Living Single, or perhaps it was the trio of crime-fighting sisters known only as The Powerpuff Girls who had you feeling like anything was possible in your life.

Seeing ourselves in stories helps ground us in the fact that we can do that thing, too. The more that everyone is able to see “untraditional” characters on the big screen, the more we’ll be able to see it in real life.

We all benefit from this. For when we gather around the table with those who have different lived experiences than our own, we all grow. We’re able to tap into a world of knowledge that wouldn’t have been available to us otherwise!

Where will we all be as more people grow up seeing themselves portrayed in popular, celebrated stories?

It’s a world I’d like to see, wouldn’t you?

If you’d like to hear the stories of more amazing women in STEM who have inspired millions, check out these articles next!

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Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

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  1. purplegirl. “The Scully Effect: I Want to Believe In…” See Jane, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 23 Mar. 2018, seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/the-scully-effect-i-want-to-believe-in-stem/. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020
  2. BrainCraft. “How Dana Scully Changed Science.” YouTube, 1 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrnda-v86U0&feature=emb_title. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.