EDITORIAL: You (should) think you are smart
Study shows that 6- to 7-year-olds girls link intelligence to men
A lot of people may believe that monitoring the psychological decisions of a 6-year-old may not be useful for scientific study. But researchers from the University of Illinois proved that the mind of 5 to 7 year olds can become extremely telling of much more than one thinks. In fact, with an experiment conducted on 400 children, researchers were able to display that certain gender biases not only exist, but run rampant within the minds of young children. The socially infused roles of gender have found their way into children’s ideas of who is intelligent and who is not — and the results are a little bothersome.
In this study, the age range was chosen because children who are 6- and 7-years-old are able to identify and differentiate between diversity. The child’s brain around this age is able to cognitively “understand differences.” This is why the University of Illinois broke up these 400 children of this age group into smaller groups and asked them questions.
In one of the studies, the children were told a story of someone who was “really, really smart.” After listening to the story, the children were instructed to pick out an individual they believed the character of the story looked like from a group of photos. This group of photos included pictures of men and women. The 5-year-olds of the group were recorded to pick photos of people of their own gender, however, it was a different case for the 6 and 7-year-olds.
The slightly older children all seemed to identify the “really, really smart” person as a man. For some, this might possibly be looked at in a positive light, with women being humble about their abilities, but the second part of the study indicated a more troubling conclusion.
In another experiment with the same children, the researchers explained two types of games to the young children. The first game was described for “smart” people and the second game was associated with people who “worked really hard.” The males of the group flocked towards the game for “smart” people while the women looked to the games created for people who “worked really hard.” What does this say about the children and others like them?
We have a real issue here. Young girls start becoming aware of the gender biases around them when they are as young as 6-years-old. The world is supposed to seem as curious and obtainable as anything. And while some may point out the positives of a humility aspect within these girls, one should not be worrying about a 6-year-old being humble. Six-year-old girls and boys should be confident, if not egotistical. And they should continue to be confident into their teenage years and into the rest of their lives. But there is a disconnect at the age of 6. Young girls are exposed to the stereotype that the activities they should be getting involved in should not be ones that require much brilliance or intelligence. This is why the results of this study looked the way they did. And if young girls are not instilled with the ideas that they should be getting involved in things that require brilliance, then the gender gap in STEM fields will continue to be drastic.
Four hundred children are not enough to make a confident conclusion, and it's important to consider these results with differences among race, class and socioeconomic status. A lot of what a child believes about himself or herself has to do with what he or she sees at home. And we need to know just how and why these gendered biases are grown — and just how to stop them.
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