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Girls as young as six years old believe boys are smarter than them, and while this is deeply saddening news, it should not come as surprising.

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The Study: Girls Believe Boys Are Naturally Smarter

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In a 2017 study published by Science, researchers from three US universities asked 400 girls and boys between ages 5 and 7, to perform a series of tests that ultimately evaluated how they perceived their intelligence in relation to gender.

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In the first test, involving a group of 96 girls and boys aged 5 to 7,  researchers read a story about a highly intelligent person and had the children guess the gender of the protagonist. In the second test, children were presented with pairs of adults, either of the same sex or opposite sex, and they had to pick who they assumed was highly intelligent. Lastly, the children were then asked to match certain objects (i.e. hammer) and attributes (i.e. smart) to unfamiliar images of men and women.

The results of these three activities reveal, that girls at age 5 are just as likely as boys to identify their own gender as highly intelligent, however girls at age 6 and 7 years old, were far less likely than boys to make this association.  In fact, 6 year old boys chose to describe other men as “really, really, smart” 65% of the time, while 6 year old girls only described women as “really, really, smart” 48% of the time.

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The study then asked students to assume which gender they thought would be more likely to get higher grades in school, and despite older girls choosing their own gender more frequently than boys (which is consistent with reality), the girls did not associate their academic success with brilliance.

What This Means For Girls Today

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Perhaps the most striking finding, is that at age 5 girls seem to be equally confident as boys in their intelligence, but as soon as they graduate from kindergarten and enter the first grade as six year olds, this confidence diminishes. The feelings of inferiority to boys already start to manifest in girls far younger than one would imagine.

“This study shows that girls are internalizing those cultural messages early in development, believing that, yes they may work hard, but they are not naturally really smart,” Christia Spears Brown, professor of psychology at Kentucky University, told the Guardian. “These beliefs can have important implications for what types of academic paths children choose to take, and shows why girls are opting out of majors like physics, despite earning high grades in school.”

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College majors in STEM fields and Philosophy are largely underrepresented by women due to sociological conditioning, that implies women aren’t capable of displaying the critical thinking skills required in those fields. Consider the toys that are advertised for young girls, which include kitchen sets, and infant dolls, versus the complex video games, and Lego bricks designed for boys. These indirectly suggest that girls should confine themselves to domesticated roles, while boys are allowed to explore different realms.

Ultimately it is up to us as adults to try to negate the harmful lines of thinking that girls are exposed to from such a young age. So the next time you give a girl a compliment, make it about her brains instead of her beauty. Invite young girls to participate in activities that challenge them mentally and creatively. Show girls that they are capable of achieving whatever they set their mind to, despite what the world tells them.

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