There are a myriad of subtle ways that our culture tells young girls they are not as smart as their male counterparts: Disproportionate representation of brilliant men in popular culture (think Sherlock Holmes and Artemis Fowl); clothing lines that trumpet boys as scholars and girls as socialites; parents who are more likely to punch “Is my son gifted?” into Google than they are to ask a similar question about their daughters.
A new report, published in the journal Science, sheds light on the impact of these assumptions. Researchers found that by the time girls reach the age of 6, they are less likely than boys to view their own gender as innately brilliant.
As the authors of the study explain in the New York Times, psychologists observed 400 children between the ages of 5 and 7, conducting several different experiments that gauged the children’s perception of their own gender.
In one part of the study, 96 children (half boys, half girls), were told stories about people of unspecified gender. One character was described as a “really, really nice” and the other was described as “really, really smart.” The children were then shown drawings of two males and two females, and asked to guess which character was smart, and which was nice. Children who were 5 years old were likely to associate intelligence with their own gender. But by age six, there was a divergence: Both boys and girls were likely to identify a male character as the smart one.
During another phase, researchers showed 64 children two board games and said that they were either for children who are really smart, or children who work really hard. Girls tended to express less interest in games that were labeled as being for really smart children; when the same games were described as being for children who worked really hard, girls expressed more interest and motivation.
These findings suggest that stereotypes about innate intelligence can dissuade girls from pursuing activities and interests that they perceive as being “for boys.” To mitigate the long-term effects of such perceptions, the authors of the study recommend emphasizing “the importance of learning and effort — rather than just innate ability — for success in any career.”
Read the full story at The New York Times.