By Megan Tan ‘19
Gender stereotypes commonly associate intellectual brilliance with men. These stereotypes explain the gender imbalances in fields typically associated with brilliance, like physics and mathematics. Lin Bian, a graduate student from the University of Illinois, set out to find the origin of this stereotype. It was found that by the age of six, girls are less likely to associate their gender with intellectual ability, and this stereotype has an influence on their interests.
Bian demonstrated the effect of gender stereotypes on children’s perception of brilliance through several studies with children five to seven years old. In the first study, 96 white middle-class children were split, by age, into groups of 32 children with equal amounts of males and females. They were told a story about a really smart person and asked to guess which of the four adults, two men and two women, was the protagonist. They were also asked to guess which gender pair from the adults was really smart. Based on the children’s guesses, Bian found that at five years old, girls were as likely as boys to associate their own gender with being more intelligent. However, girls who were six and seven years old were significantly less likely than boys to link their gender to brilliance. In a subsequent study, 64 children aged six and seven were introduced to two novel games –one that was stated to be for really smart children and another that was for children who tried really hard. Four questions were then asked to measure their interests in each game. Some of these questions included whether the children liked or disliked the games. Girls were less likely to be interested in the game for smart children. However, they were more interested in the game for hard-working children, linking their interests to the gender brilliance stereotype.
This study is significant because it studies gender stereotypes at a young age. Since the children used in these studies were mostly white and middle class, further research should be conducted to investigate the acquisition of the male brilliance stereotype in other demographics.
- L. Bian, et al., Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science 355, 389-391 (2016). doi: 10.1126/science.aah6524.
- Image from: http://www.indianlink.com.au/the-gifted-child/