How we think about others can influence how we behave in society. There is a common stereotype that men are smarter than women. We see this evidence everywhere around us; from how women are represented in media to the language used in our daily lives. When do these thoughts fill our heads? And how do they affect us?
Dr. Lin Bian in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, along with Drs. Andrei Cimpian and Sarah-Jane Leslie, looked at when gender stereotypes about smartness form in children. In their experiment, they told stories about a “really, really smart” person and a “really, really nice person” and asked children between the ages of 5-7 years old who was the boy in the stories. To follow up, they did another experiment asking children to pick a game between one for kids who were “really, really smart” and the other for kids who tried “really, really hard.” At a younger age, children picked their own gender, but girls between the ages of 6-7 started saying that the boys were smarter.
The impact of these stereotypes, in the long term, will steer many young women away from careers that are thought to require brilliance. You may wonder why these beliefs occur in the first place. It does not have to do with the actual ability of what a girl can do. At this age, girls tend to surpass their male peers in terms of school performance, and the girls in Dr. Bian and her colleagues' study knew this. When asked, both girls and boys agreed that in school, girls tend to do better. However, this did not seem to matter.
Ultimately, this research suggests that stereotypes related to brilliance with males seem to be acquired at an early age and are related to the activities that boys and girls are interested in.
To understand the development of these stereotypes, there needs to be more investigation, but we can see that perhaps parents, teachers, or the books and movies children are exposed to can help instill more positive views in young girls' minds.
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