Children’s Gender Stereotypes About Intelligence Vary by Race

Previous research has found that by the age of 6, girls become less likely than boys to associate brilliance with their own gender and are more likely to avoid activities said to require brilliance. But research on this stereotype has not considered how its acquisition might differ depending on the race of the men and women targeted by the stereotype — or depending on the children’s own race.

A new study conducted at New York University finds that children of all races are more likely to think of White men as ” brilliant” compared to White women. But the study found that children of all races do not extend this stereotype to African American men and women.

Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor of psychology at New York University and the senior author of the study, explains that “among adults, gender stereotypes apply differently to men and women depending on their race. Our research indicates that the stereotype associating brilliance with White men more than White women is likely widespread — but also that children acquire no such stereotype about Black men and women. In fact, they may see Black women as more likely to be brilliant than they do Black men.”

Researchers posed a series of questions to more than 200 5- and 6-year-olds from New York City public elementary schools. The children were shown photographs of eight pairs of adults, one pair at a time. The two people in each of the eight pairs were a woman and a man of the same race. Children were told that one of the two individuals in each pair was “really, really smart” and were then asked to guess which one the smart individual was.

“Overall, these findings reinforce the conclusion that the gender-brilliance stereotype is acquired relatively early on in life, but they also suggest that this stereotype may ‘look’ different depending on the ethnicity of the women and men that children are reasoning about,” observes Jilana Jaxon, a co-author on the paper and an NYU doctoral student at the time of the research.

The study, “The Acquisition of Gender Stereotypes About Intellectual Ability: Intersections with Race,” was published on the website of the Journal of Social Issues. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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