Thoughts from the Study

You may have heard on Radio 4, a discussion of recent research undertaken at University of Illinois which argues that six year old girls already have gendered beliefs about intelligence.  

“There are lots of people at the place where I work, but there is one person who is really special. This person is really, really smart,” said Lin Bian. “This person figures out how to do things quickly and comes up with answers much faster and better than anyone else. This person is really, really smart.”  

Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, read this story out to 240 children, aged 5 to 7. She then showed them pictures of four adults—two men and two women—and asked them to guess which was the protagonist of the story. She also gave them two further tests: one in which they had to guess which adult in a pair was really, really smart,’ and another where they had to match attributes such as  ‘smart’ or ‘nice’ to pictures of unfamiliar men and women.  

The results were stark. Among the 5-year-olds, both boys and girls associated brilliance with their own gender. But among those aged 6 or 7, only the boys still held to that view. At an age when girls tend to outperform boys at school, and when children in general show large positive biases towards their own in-groups, the girls became less likely than boys to attribute brilliance to their own gender. Bian also found that the older girls were less interested in games that were meant for ‘really, smart’ children.  

Research such as this is a further call to arms for educators of young girls and boys. It is also another reminder of the essential work we do here at St Catherine’s and indeed in other girls’ schools to ensure girls and young women are given strong female role models to follow and to emulate. I recommend as an excellent resource listing books, toys and films suitable for ‘smart, confident and courageous girls’ and urge us all to work together on this to ensure that St Catherine’s girls have a sense that there is nothing that they cannot go on to achieve.  

Naomi Bartholomew