“A person in my office is really, really smart—they solve problems faster and better than anyone else.” When 5-year-old girls hear this statement, they’re as likely as boys are to assume the smart person is of their own gender. But by age 6 to 7, they’re 20%–30% less likely to assume this brilliant individual is a woman, according to a study published today in Science. In another experiment, researchers found that the older girls were less interested than their male counterparts in games—one resembling a two-color version of Chinese checkers—that the team described as being designed for “really, really smart children.” They remained equally interested in games for “children who try really, really hard,” though. The researchers say these early ideas about gender and intelligence could steer young women away from high-profile careers associated with high intelligence, like neuroscience or engineering. One surprising find? Boys and girls both acknowledged that girls get better grades, indicating that children don’t necessarily associate success in school with brilliance. The scientists hope to determine where else kids’ perceptions of intelligence might originate. In the meantime, they suggest emphasizing perseverance, rather than smarts, when promoting activities for both girls and boys.
Click here for free access to our latest coronavirus/COVID-19 research, commentary, and news.
Support nonprofit science journalism
Science’s extensive COVID-19 coverage is free to all readers. To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today.