In the first few years of elementary school, girls are less likely to think that members of their gender can be brilliant. They are more shy than boys when it comes to activities that require exceptional brilliance. According to a study that appears Thursday in Science, the researchers wanted to find out why women are marginalized in technology, science, mathematics, STEM and engineering.

This may be a result of the stereotypes, which are deeply rooted in the childhood and may have a profound impact on women’s career choices.

A professor of psychology, Andrei Cimpian, from the New York University claims that women are underrepresented in both humanities fields and STEM, because their members should have inborn talent in order to succeed.

Cimpian claims that it is usually believed that the onset of these stereotypes is during college but in fact they develop at kids from ages 5-7. So, they conducted experiments including 400 children. In one experiment, 96 of the kids were asked some questions about gender and brilliance.

For example, they need to tell a story about someone who is smart and then to choose the protagonist out of 4 photos, 2 of women and 2 of men. Among 5-years-olds, the boys said that males were smarter 71% of the time while 69% of the time for girls. Among 6-year-olds, 65% for boys and 48% for girls. Among 7-years-olds, 68% for boys and 54% for girls.

What’s interesting, both 6-year-old boys and girls say different things, reports Sapna Cheryan, a professor of psychology who did not take part of the research.

Another experiment found that older girls did not associate their gender with brilliance.

Another experiment included 6 and 7-year olds who participated in two similar games. One was intended for talented kids, while the other for those kids that try really hard. Boys were more interested than girls in the game intended for talented kids, but they showed a similar interest in the second game.

However, the experiment couldn’t find out how these messages reach the kids and how they can be changed. So, Chipian plans a long-term study of young children that will measure environmental factors such as parental beliefs and media exposure. This will better predict the reasons for the occurrence of these stereotypes and what is needed to change them.

The research points out that role models can introduce women and members of other underrepresented groups. One particular movie about female African-American mathematicians at NASA, titles  can serve as an inspiration to girls and teens of color to pursue their careers.

The girls showed divided opinions associated with brilliance in women. The boys were more likely to associate talent and brilliance with their own gender. Cimpian claims that it is of crucial importance not to fall into the trap of assuming that it’s the girls who need always to change. Another approach is to change the belief that some areas require inborn talent rather than hard work.

According to Cimpian, stereotypes appear where there is an innate ability. If kids are aware of the fact that success does not come because of fixed talent, but as a result of hard work, these stereotypes may disappear over time.

Also, kids should be exposed to different fields such as engineering in order to demystify them.

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