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Gender stereotypes around intelligence 'affect girls as young as six'

01/02/2017 Joanna

Pervasive stereotypes about intelligence and academic achievement could be affecting girls from a young age, according to a new study.

Research carried out by New York University has indicated that the societal stereotype associating intellectual talent more closely with men than women may be influencing the lifestyle choices of girls as young as six.

For this study, a group of children were told a story about a protagonist of unspecified gender who was described as "really, really smart", before being asked to select the most likely appearance of the protagonist from among pictures of two men and two women. The youngsters were also asked to pair certain words, including "smart", with either a man or a woman.

Researchers also asked the group of girls and boys to evaluate their preferences for two games, one of which was described as being intended for "really, really smart" children, while the other was for children who try "really, really hard".

According to data published in the medical journal Science, both boys and girls associated brilliance with their own gender similarly at age five, but by six years of age views had started to diverge, with girls already significantly less likely to describe members of their own gender as "really, really smart", as well as avoiding games described as being for children with high intellectual aptitude.

Given that women are often underrepresented in fields whose members perceive brilliance or innate talent as crucial for success - including many of the sciences - it could be that this perception is having a lifelong effect.

The study's senior author Andrei Cimpian, psychology professor at New York University, said: "Not only do we see that girls just starting out in school are absorbing some of society's stereotyped notions of brilliance, but these young girls are also choosing activities based on these stereotypes. This is heartbreaking."

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