Science Weekly: Young girls believe boys are naturally smarter

Kellie Plumhof

A new study revealed that girls are more likely to believe that boys are more intelligent by the age of six. (Source: Tribune News Service)

Young girls are more likely associate intelligence with males rather than females, a new study from New York University, the University of Illinois and Princeton University said.

Lin Bian, doctoral student at U of I, Andrei Cimpian, professor of psychology at NYU, and Sarah-Jane Leslie, professor of philosophy at Princeton, collaborated on the research which was published in the journal “Science.”

The three researchers studied children ages five to seven to determine if children were picking up on the stereotype that men are smarter than woman.

“Our society tends to associate brilliance with men more than with women, and this notion pushes women away from jobs that are perceived to require brilliance,” Bian said.

One part of the experiment required the children to listen to a story that described a person who was “really, really smart.” After the story, researchers brought in two men and two women. Children were asked to choose who they believed the story was about. In the second part of the experiment, children were asked to pick which adult was “really, really smart” between a male and a female adult.

The results showed that five year old children, both boys and girls age five, positively saw their gender in both of the experiments. However, girls ages six and seven were not as likely to associate their own gender with intelligence.

Researchers said that these results were similar across children from a variety of socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Even though the stereotype equating brilliance with men doesn’t match reality, it might nonetheless take a toll on girls’ aspirations and on their eventual careers,” Cimpian said.

In a following study, researchers wanted to see if the perception that males are more intelligent than females had an impact on the children’s interests.

A new group of children, from the same age range, were used for the subsequent study. The researchers described two different games to the children, one for very smart children and one for children who try very hard.

The children were then asked about their interest in the game. The results showed that the girls ages six and seven were less likely to be interested in the game for smart children than their male peers.

Just like in the previous study, children age five — male or female — did not have any significant differences in interest.

“In earlier work, we found that adult women were less likely to receive higher degrees in fields thought to require ‘brilliance,’ and these new findings show that these stereotypes begin to impact girls’ choices at a heartbreakingly-young age,” Leslie said.

Brian, Cimpian and Leslie said that more research needs to be done before these findings can be applied broadly to the population.