Jan 27, 2017, 5:05 PM ET

6-Year-Old Girls Link Intelligence to Men Over Women, Study Says


Girls as young as age 6 tend to attribute intelligence to men more so than women, according to a new study published this week.

Researchers found that girls age 6 or younger are more likely to believe men are "brilliant" compared to women.

The researchers were affiliated with the University of Illinois, New York University and Princeton University.

Jill Weber, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C., said she's not surprised by the study's findings.

"When you think of brilliance, it goes along with power and leadership and standing out and feeling confident," said Weber. "Unfortunately we do not socialize girls [to have] those traits."

The study published Thursday in the medical journal Science had 400 children go through a series of experiments to see if they associated the idea of "brilliance" with a specific gender.

In one study, 96 students, equally divided between boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 7, were told a story of a "really, really smart person" and then told to pick that person from a group of images of men and women. While the 5-year-old children tended to pick people from their own gender, the older children were more likely to pick photographs of men.

In another experiment, the children were asked to pick one of two games: one for "really, really smart" people and one for "children who worked really, really hard." Researchers found girls were overall less interested in the games for "smart" people but equally interested in the game for children who "worked really, really hard." The study authors theorize that girls may not pick the game for "smart" people because they are trying to be modest.

Weber explained that children in the 5 to 6 age range become less egocentric and start to pay more attention to those around them.

"Around 6 or 7 cognitively that is when the child's brain is better able to compare and look at diversity and understand differences," Weber explained.

However, Weber said that parents shouldn't feel demoralized by the study's findings. Instead, they should work to counteract social messages.

"I think the more conscious we are...it reminds us we have to wake up again," Weber explained. "We have to deliberately coach girls" to be more vocal, she said.

The researchers caution that more study is needed with a larger and more diverse group to confirm these early findings.

"The present results suggest a sobering conclusion: Many children assimilate the idea that brilliance is a male quality at a young age," the study authors wrote. "This stereotype begins to shape children’s interests as soon as it is acquired and is thus likely to narrow the range of careers they will one day contemplate."

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  • topkatlewis

    Men have done an awful job at almost everything .. they are the ones who start wars .. run our country .. sexual attacks against women and children .. It seems all they want is power with no leadership whatsoever .. It's what we have right now in the white house .

  • Jack O'Shadows

    poorly composed hedline is poorly composed.

  • Pro-Marx

    Once they start dating teenage boys, they will realize how wrong they were.

  • Aaron

    If you look at IQ distribution between men and women, you find that the bell curve for women is much more tightly knit than men. Men on the other hand have a much wider range of distribution. This means that women have fewer "idiots", but they also have fewer "geniuses" on average. Men have a greater chance than women to be below average IQ, but also a greater chance to have an above average IQ.

    The data suggests that these children are just more perceptive, and haven't been conditioned to the "society approved" responses that people are expected to parrot. I honestly would like examples of ANYWHERE in modern media or society that is sending a message that women are not smart, or capable. Then, I would like to compare how often or prevalent such scenarios exist to the opposite: media or societal messages that show women to be just as capable in all facets of life as men. Based on my personal observations (disclaimer - not scientific - anecdotal observations) I would say the women empowering messages outnumber negative messages 9 to 1. I honestly can't think of any situation where they communicate that women on the whole are less capable than men.

    It is time for the pendulum to swing back towards reasonable, rationale analysis of the differences between men and women so that we can get to the TRUTH. Only by accepting reality, aka THE TRUTH, can we come up with REAL solutions for men and women so we can all thrive to the best of our own natural abilities, as nature intended. We need to keep open minds, ALL of us, men and women, towards that end.

  • Frank Energy

    96 children were tested, and this deserves an article, a report?
    methinks this is simply more man-shaming, male guilt trip.

  • anon_64

    We're mammals. Look at nearly all other social mammals. Males generally lead. At least some part of why men are often seen, right or wrong, to be more intelligent and capable leaders, is likely biological predisposition.

  • Jennifer West

    Could it possibly be natural structure. I believe at this stage we are in a "tool" learning stage. This is part of survival as we grow larger and wiser and start to be a bit independent. Women tend in majority to be more of the nurturer, the children are most likely around them more and have been learning by their example since birth. While the fathers go out with tools (a spear or briefcase) and bring home the "bacon". This is intriguing and heightens the curiosity and the want to learn. I have given a very very basic example. I simply think this is a thing of nature, something embedded in our evolution and absolutely in no way reflects that this is the "situation" in most cases in our modern society. Maybe in tens of thousands of years in the future, this will no longer be the case.

  • Bryan Thompson

    Smart girls.

  • InklingBooks

    This is not surprising when you look at how our politics are covered in the mainstream press, including at ABC. For these young girls, the most visible woman is Hillary, who is often described in our news media as "intelligent," "experienced," and "capable." And that despite the fact that her four years as Secretary of State were such a disaster that even her most avid fans cannot come up with a single achievement.

    Contrast that to the most visible man in today's news, Donald Trump. He's often described as "stupid" and "incompetent" by the same news media that praises Hillary. And yet Trump made billions in a complex, international, major city real estate market that has bankrupted many others. You can say what you want about Trump, but claiming he's stupid makes no sense.

    How does a little six-year-old girl respond to news coverage like that? She should conclude that our news media is populated with idiots devoid of any sense and liars devoid of integrity. But she's yet to have enough experience with life to discover that. She'll probably not realize that until late in high school.

    So instead, she does a side-by-side comparison of the two, setting Hillary, apparently the smartest woman in the world, alongside Trump, apparently an idiot among men. She draws the most obvious of observations that Trump is clearly the smarter—after all he beat Hillary despite all the vicious press attacks directed at him. She then logically concludes that men are smarter than women. That's what our biased press teaches even little kids.

    Note the girlish but sensible reasoning. These girls hear that Hillary is very smart for a woman and Trump very stupid for a man and yet clearly Trump is smarter than Hillary. The most obvious of conclusions is that men are smarter than women. You can't argue with their logic.

    If you'd like extend add a racial factor, give the highly intelligent Condi Rice the same puffing in the press that Hillary has gotten and alongside her place an Obama whose cluelessness draws the same nasty attacks that the press would be give to a Republican president. For instance, the press would have sneered loudly if one of the Bushes had referred to a Navy medic, who is called a corpsman because he often serves on shore with the Marine Corps, as a "corpse man." Yet Obama's stupidity was passed over in embarrassed silence. Note again what our liberal press bias teaches these little girls. By ignoring a smart Republican woman and covering up the stupidities of a Democratic man, they again teach that that men are smarter that women.

    It's sometimes said that there are three kinds of lies:

    1. Lies often kindly meant.
    2. Damn lies, meaning those meant to hurt.
    3. Statistics, meaning lies that appeal to science to give them the appearance of truth.

    To that we should add:

    4. Journalism, which lies viciously and aggressively in an effort to drown out any source of the truth. That's what we're seeing in the aftermath of Election 2016.

    And yes, I do realize that the argument I've just given will pass miles over the heads of most journalists. Perhaps someone should do a study exploring how people regard the intelligence of our press. That might be edifying.

  • Becca Bankston

    Well, I was lucky to have a smart mom and a divorced and complete doofus for a father. So I am biased toward intelligence in women. Some men may have book smarts, but women far and above have common sense and that is why the good Lord picked women to be the primary caregivers of children. However, if men were the primary caregivers of children, we would not have the global overpopulation problem because hardly anyone would survive infancy and childhood. :)

  • Deuce Bollards

    The problem is in trying to measure two entirely different sources of thought. Women think with the only head they have. Men think on a lower level.