Young girls less likely to attribute brilliance to their own gender

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE

Six-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are brilliant, reports a new study, which also found that girls at this age are more likely to shy away from activities said to be for children who are “really, really smart.” The results demonstrate a worrisome trend, given that career aspirations of young men and women are shaped by societal stereotypes about gender. To gain more insights into gender stereotypes, Lin Bian and colleagues set up a series of experiments with children age 5, 6 and 7 – stages when stereotypes are known to begin. In one task, the children were told a brief story about a person who was “really, really smart,” but no hints as to the protagonist’s gender were provided.

At age 5, both boys and girls were equally likely to choose their own gender as “really, really smart,” yet by age 6 and 7, girls were girls were significantly less likely than boys to associate brilliance with their own gender. In another set of questionnaires, children had to guess which of four children, two boys and two girls, “gets the best grades in school.” In contrast with the drop in brilliance scores, there was no significant difference between younger and older girls in the likelihood of selecting other girls as having top grades.

Thus girls’ perceptions of school achievement were separate from their perceptions of brilliance. Lastly, children were introduced to two novel games, one said to be for “children who are really, really smart” and the other for “children who try really, really hard.” The researchers found no difference between game choice of boys and girls at age 5, but by age 6 and 7 girls were less interested than boys in the game for smart children, but not in the game for hard-working children.

The results demonstrate a worrisome trend, given that career aspirations of young men and women are shaped by societal stereotypes about gender. To gain more insights into gender stereotypes, Lin Bian and colleagues set up a series of experiments with children age 5, 6 and 7 – stages when stereotypes are known to begin. In one task, the children were told a brief story about a person who was “really, really smart,” but no hints as to the protagonist’s gender were provided. At age 5, both boys and girls were equally likely to choose their own gender as “really, really smart,” yet by age 6 and 7, girls were girls were significantly less likely than boys to associate brilliance with their own gender.

In another set of questionnaires, children had to guess which of four children, two boys and two girls, “gets the best grades in school.” In contrast with the drop in brilliance scores, there was no significant difference between younger and older girls in the likelihood of selecting other girls as having top grades. Thus girls’ perceptions of school achievement were separate from their perceptions of brilliance. Lastly, children were introduced to two novel games, one said to be for “children who are really, really smart” and the other for “children who try really, really hard.” The researchers found no difference between game choice of boys and girls at age 5, but by age 6 and 7 girls were less interested than boys in the game for smart children, but not in the game for hard-working children.


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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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