Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
"Really really smart"
Now remember, I’m just the messenger here. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Last week we had one of those national days most of us never heard of until social media: National Daughters Day.
I missed it. So to make up for it—and also because I’ve had today’s subject on my list for a while, and it’s a pretty decent hook—I thought I’d share the surprising and unfortunate results of a 3-university study into whether and when girls supposedly begin to believe that boys and girls are simply fated for different things, intellectually speaking.
Remember, I’m just the messenger here, and I’m sharing as part of an effort to combat the status quo. But, to summarize what the university researchers found:
At age 5, both boys and girls believe that grown men and women are equally likely to be "really, really smart." So far, so good.
However, after just a year or two more of school, girls overwhelmingly grow to believe that men are much more likely to be "really, really smart” than women are.
As they continue their academic careers, this incorrect belief leads many girls to pursue less ambitious career goals than boys, and to shy away from taking courses and pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Not all girls wind up believing this, of course, but the research suggests that a statistically significant majority wind up feeling this way, and I think it’s worth knowing about. Here's the research in greater detail, along with some potential solutions.
"Really, really smart"
First, the study. Researchers from three major United States universities (see below) did a series of experiments with hundreds of Illinois elementary school children. Their work was first reported in 2017 in the journal, Science.
Two of the experiments were pretty similar:
Researchers showed the children pictures of various men and women, told them that one of the people in the photos was "really, really smart," and asked the kids to try to identify him or her from the pictures.
Later, they told the boys and girls that they could choose to play one of two games. One game was for "really, really smart" children, and the other game was for "people who work really hard." Then, they took note of which game the boys or girls chose to play.
The results, as we've seen, were disappointing.
Five-year-old boys and girls in the study were as likely to choose the men or the women in the "who's really, really smart" photo test. And they were also equally eager to play the "really smart" game as the other one..
But by first grade or second grade, both boys and girls assumed that the men in the photos were the "really, really smart" ones, not the women. Also, the girls overwhelmingly started to turn down trying the game for "really, really smart" kids, and instead try the other one.
Cause(s) and effect(s)
You might be reading this and saying to yourself, well, duh. We live in a patriarchal society, and maybe it's not surprising that girls acquire these perceptions.
As one of the study's authors, associate professor Andrei Cimpian of New York University, put it:
"We associate a high level of intellectual ability with males more than females, [although] these stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence."
Actually, it's not just that there aren't any markers suggesting boys are smarter than girls; in fact, the evidence goes the other way.
Girls get better grades in school on average than boys, have higher rates of high school graduation, and they pursue and complete college education at higher rates than men. So why the misperception?
One suggestion is that vast majority of "really, really smart" role models that we discuss in school--even in early grades—are mostly men: Einstein, and "bearded, ancient Greeks," as Nick Anderson of The Washington Post put it.
Moreover, some studies show that parents assume their sons will be smarter than their daughters, and that female teachers often treat boys as if they're smarter than girls. Regardless, there are far-reaching effects.
In a separate study, researchers found that a major reason why women are so underrepresented in the STEM fields compared to men is that so many grow up simply believing that the courses will be too hard for them. Now, it seems these stereotypes begin much earlier in life than most of us might have imagined.
Give them a growth mindset
One of the remedies here seems clear—to find ways to share more “really, really smart” female role models. But another option might short-circuit the entire discussion.
Perhaps for both boys and girls, we should emphasize the role that “hard work and effort” play a much greater in achieving success, as opposed to simply lauding their innate gifts, according to Lin Bian of the University of Illinois, who was also a coauthor of the study.
This advice is in keeping with the research of Carol Dweck of Stanford University, who argues that you should praise your children for the strategies and processes they develop to solve problems—and never for their God-given intelligence or talents—starting from the youngest ages.
What do you think? I also have to remark that every time I’ve written about Dweck and her work, I tend to get comments and messages from older people saying that it’s as if the scales had fallen from their eyes, and they now wish their own parents and teachers had followed this model when they were younger.
Happy belated National Daughters Day, made-up holiday or not, to my daughter and to all the daughters out there.
7 other things worth knowing today
“We’re tired, dirty and hungry”: Hurricane Ian survivors leave Fort Myers Beach on foot. (Miami Herald)
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases this term on whether social media companies can be held financially responsible for hosting terrorist content. Both cases could have significant implications for online speech and the role of tech companies in controlling what users share through their platforms. (The Hill)
Another big Supreme Court case coming (worth knowing): Moore v. Harper, which will decide whether state legislatures can gerrymander Congressional districts and even appoint the electors who cast the actual votes for president in our quirky Constitutional system without review by the courts. (The Atlantic)
8 things parents do to raise compassionate kids. (Fatherly)
A California high school canceled the remainder of its football season after members of the team were filmed enacting a prank in which they appeared to “auction” off Black teammates. The superintendent called the video “unacceptable” and “deeply offensive." (CNN)
Ready or not, what your job pays is about to get a lot less private. Just a year ago, only Colorado required employers to list salary ranges on job postings, now California, Washington State, New York City and many other jurisdictions are following. (Bloomberg)
We know it's autumn when we start seeing stories like: the $8,500 prize a Massachusetts man won for growing 2,480-pound pumpkin. Related-ish: How Long Do Pumpkins Last? The Scoop On Avoiding A Putrid Mess. (Today, Scary Mommy)