It’s sad to think that gender stereotypes start as early as elementary school. Unfortunately, NPR shared that a new study reveals young girls believe they are not as smart as their male classmates. The study found that girls as young as six think brilliance is a trait found in boys. Seven year-old girls overwhelmingly believe that men are inherently smarter than women.
In the study, which originally appeared in Science, researchers examined 400 children.
In one experiment, researchers read a story about a highly intelligent person to a group of 96 boys and girls, between the ages of five and seven. The kids were then asked to pick the smart person from four photos, two of men and two of women. Aside from the gender, the images were nearly identical. The five year olds generally identified their own gender. But six- and seven year-old girls answering the same question were notably less likely to chose the female photo.
“The surprising thing is that already, by age 6, girls and boys are saying different things,” says Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington. “Before they’ve heard of physics or computer science they are getting these messages.”
In another experiment, researchers asked six and seven year-olds about the appeal of two similar board games. Game One was intended for “children who are really, really smart.” Game Two was for “children who try really, really hard.” Both genders were interested in the game where children had to try hard, yet fewer girls were interested in the game for “really, really smart” children.
It gets worse. Another experiment showed that girls were less likely to link their own gender with brilliance, even though they had better academic grades than boys.
According to NPR, researchers do not know how the message that boys are inherently smarter than girls are getting to kids or how this could be changed. Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says he is planning a long-term study of young children that would measure environmental factors, including media exposure and parental beliefs.
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