Lin Bian, a psychologist at University of Illinois, found that starting at the age of 6, girls are less likely to identify themselves or other girls as “really, really smart”. In a recent study, she analyzed the gender gap between young boys and girls and their perception of intelligence. While boys continually identified men as being “smart”, girls as young as 6 started to identify women less and less with the word “smart”. The girls actually pointed to men and women as being more equally intelligent than the boys.
In another task, when asked if they wanted to play a game for kids who are “really, really smart”, the girls would opt out. The young boys wanted to play the game for “really, really smart kids”. However, girls would choose to play the game for kids who “try really, really hard”.
The study suggests that starting as young as 6-years-old, girls have been influenced by society to accept that they are not as intelligent as boys.
Now, before we go headlong into changing girls, Sapna Cheryan from University of Washington brings up a good point:
Do we want a society where each gender thinks they are smarter, or do we want one where boys and girls think the genders are equally smart? If the latter, then it may be boys’ beliefs that we should try to change.
Similarly, do we want a society where people would rather play the game that requires being ‘being smart’ over the one that require ‘hard work?’ We as a society should figure out what we value before concluding that it is the girls we need to change.
It’s an important point to make because the answer can influence how we plan youth mentoring programs. What are your thoughts on Cheryan’s question?
What we do know, is we need to continue to recognize the role gender bias has on our youth and work to encourage children to work with and accept one another. There will always be a place for mentoring programs.