Study: Stereotyping 'Brilliance' As Male Trait Increases With Age in Children Up to Age 12 Years

The investigators discovered that, as the age of the boys that were tested got older, they were less likely to hold the same stereotype of brilliance being a male trait as their parents.

A belief that “brilliance” is considered a male trait specifically was found to increase in children up until 12 years of age, according to research conducted in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore in collaboration with New York University in the United States. The study was conducted in a participant population that consisted of 389 Chinese Singaporean parents and 342 of their children between the ages of 8 and 12 years.

The study carried out tests to measure the extent to which parents and their children associate the notion of brilliance with men over other genders and to analyze the relationship between parents and their children’s views. During the study, the investigators defined brilliance as “an exceptional level of intellectual ability,” and the results showed that children are more likely to associate brilliance with men if their parents hold the same belief regarding brilliance being a male trait.

Previous research on gender stereotypes has found that the idea of giftedness as a male trait can emerge at approximately age 6 years, and it was unknown whether and how this stereotype changes over the course of childhood. To understand the development of gender stereotypes among children, the investigators in this study investigated the gender stereotype associated with brilliance in particular.

"Stereotypical views about how boys are smarter than girls can take root in childhood and become a self-fulfilling prophecy," said lead author Setoh Peipei, an associate professor at the NTU Singapore School of Social Sciences, in a press release. "For girls, this may lead them to doubt their abilities, thus limiting their ideas about their interests and what they can achieve in life. Our research work shows parents must also be included in policies and school programs to effectively combat children's gender stereotypes from a young age.”

Using the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is a common implicit measure of stereotyping that is used in research, the investigators evaluated parents’ and children’s behavior. During the test, the participants were asked to categorize photographs of men and women and 2 sets of words. One set of “genius words” referred to the notion of brilliance and included words like “super-smart” and “genius,” while the other set of words referred to creativity.

The first half of trials saw the participants pressing keys to categorize the male photographs with genius words, and this process was repeated in the second half of the trials with female photographs and genius words. The participants with an implicit association of men being brilliant will react faster to the task of categorizing genius words with the male photographs than the same task with female photographs.

The results showed an average D score of 0.16, which indicated that the Singaporean children included in the study associate brilliance with men more than they associate the trait with women.

In the second half of the study, scores from parent-child pairs were investigated among those who took the tests separately. The results showed that children’s scores were correlated to their parents’ test scores, which suggested to the researchers that during the earlier years of primary school, parents may play a part in their children’s acquisition of the “brilliance equals men” stereotype.

In a further analysis, the investigators discovered that, as the age of the boys that were tested got older, they were less likely to hold the same stereotype of brilliance being a male trait as their parents. However, for girls, the stereotypes remained closely linked to their parents’ stereotypes throughout the primary school years.

"This study adds to the evidence that the gender imbalances observed in many prestigious careers are not a function of differences between women and men in their inherent aptitudes or interests,” said co-author Andrei Cimpian, PhD, professor of Psychology at New York University, in a press release. “Rather, these imbalances are the product of the messages that young people are getting from those around them about what women and men are supposedly—and supposed to be—like. As a society, we have a responsibility to work toward addressing this issue."

The authors of the study noted that future studies will be focused on whether this gender stereotype about brilliance being a male trait may differently impact primary and secondary school girls’ and boys’ outcomes in math, which is a core STEM subject that is commonly believed to require intellectual brilliance to excel in.

REFERENCE

Pre-teen children believe 'brilliance' is a male trait, and this stereotype increases in strength up to the age of twelve. ScienceDaily. July 25, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220725105645.htm

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