Pre-adolescent children believe that “brilliance” is a masculine trait, and this stereotype increases in strength until the age of twelve – ScienceDaily


Children have stereotypical ideas that “glow’ is a male trait, and this belief becomes stronger as they grow up to age twelve, researchers from Singapore and the United States have reported.

The study conducted by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) in collaboration with New York University, was published in the scientific journal child development in May 2022. It involved 389 Singaporean Chinese parents and 342 of their children between the ages of 8 and 12.

Tests were conducted to measure the extent to which parents and their children associate the notion of genius with men, and to probe the relationship between parents and the opinions of their children.

The study defined brilliance as an exceptional level of intellectual ability and the results showed that children are as likely to associate brilliance with men as their parents.

This belief was stronger in older children and stronger in children whose parents felt the same way.

While previous research on gender stereotypes has revealed that the idea that giftedness is a masculine trait may emerge around age six, it was unclear if and how this stereotype changes during childhood. so far.

The study’s lead author, Associate Professor Setoh Peipei of NTU Singapore’s School of Social Sciences, said the Singapore-based study is the first to identify that the tendency to associate shine with men (also known as the name stereotype “brilliance is equal to men”) increases in strength during the elementary school years and reaches the level of belief seen in adults by the age of 13.

“Stereotypical views of how boys are smarter than girls can take root in childhood and become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Professor Setoh said. “For girls, it can lead them to doubt their abilities, limiting their ideas about their interests and what they can achieve in life.”

“Our research shows that parents must also be included in school policies and curricula to effectively address gender stereotypes of children from an early age,” she added.

For example, as previous studies have shown that parents use different explanatory styles for daughters and for sons, the research team said that programs aimed at training parents and teachers to ensure that they balance their behavior when interacting with children – especially with girls – could be introduced.

The authors say the study offers evidence in support of Singapore’s efforts to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors.

While Singapore has the world’s second-highest OECD PISA score in math, science, and reading, a recent study by NTU Singapore’s Promotion of Women in Engineering, Research, and Science (POWERS) program found that Singaporean women are less confident in their math and science abilities compared to men. Women are also more likely than men to perceive gender-related barriers to entry and career progression in STEM.

How the study was conducted

The researchers used the Implicit Association Test (IAT) – a commonly used implicit measure of stereotypes – to assess the behavior of parents and children. During the test, participants were asked to categorize photographs of men and women, along with two sets of words. One set of “genius words” referred to the notion of brilliance and included words such as “super-intelligent” and “genius”, while the other set of words referred to creativity (attribute of control).

During the first half of the trials, participants had to press a key to categorize the male photographs with the genius words. This process was repeated in the second half of the essays with female photographs and genius words. Participants with an implicit association of brilliant men will respond more quickly to the task of categorizing genius words with male photographs than to the same task with female photographs.

The results revealed an average D-score (a measure of the strength of the stereotypical association “intellectual brilliance = men”) of 0.16, indicating that Singaporean children associate brilliance with men more than women and that this belief stereotypes increased in strength with age in children. sample and have reached levels of stereotyping comparable to those of adults by the age of 12. Thereafter, their point of view changed little.

In the second part of the study, the researchers looked at the scores of parent-child pairs who took the tests separately but at the same time and found that the children’s scores were correlated with their parents’ test scores. This result suggests that during the first years of primary school, parents may play a role in their children’s acquisition of the stereotype “brilliance is equal to that of men”.

Further analysis revealed that as the age of the boys tested increased, they were less likely to hold the same stereotypical views of men as bright as their parents. However, for girls, their stereotypes remained closely tied to their parents’ stereotypes throughout the primary school years.

Co-author Andrei Cimpian, professor of psychology at New York University, said: “This study adds to the evidence that the gender imbalances observed in many high-profile careers are not a function of differences between women and men. men in their inherent abilities or interests. these imbalances are the product of the messages that young people receive from those around them about what women and men are supposed to be – and supposed to be -. As a society, we have a responsibility to work to resolve this issue.

Going forward, the research team is investigating whether this gender stereotype of brilliance may impact differently on the performance of primary and secondary school girls and boys in maths – a core STEM subject that is generally considered requiring intellectual brilliance to excel.

The project investigates various math outcomes that can predict children’s future participation in STEM fields, including math achievement, interest, and self-confidence. The researchers hope that by unraveling how the gender stereotype about brilliance works to skew the interests and aspirations of girls and boys from an early age, the project will offer valuable insights into designing interventions to curb the circulation of gender stereotypes and ultimately help close STEM gender gaps in society.


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