WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (Xinhua) -- By the age of six, girls become less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are brilliant, and are more likely to avoid activities said to be for children who are "really, really smart," a new study has found.
Researchers of the study, published this week in the U.S. journal Science, conducted a series of experiments with 400 children aged between five and seven, stages when societal stereotypes about gender are known to begin.
In one experiment, the children heard a story about a person who was "really, really smart" but no hints as to the protagonist's gender were provided.
At age five, both boys and girls were equally likely to choose their own gender as "really, really smart," yet by age six and seven, girls were significantly less likely than boys to associate brilliance with their own gender, the study said.
In another set of questionnaires, children had to guess which of four children, two boys and two girls, "gets the best grades in school."
In contrast with the drop in brilliance scores, there was no significant difference between younger and older girls in the likelihood of selecting other girls as having top grades.
"Thus, girls' ideas about who is brilliant are not rooted in their perceptions of who performs well in school," said the study.
Lastly, children were introduced to two novel games, one said to be for "children who are really, really smart" and the other for "children who try really, really hard."
The researchers found no difference between game choice of boys and girls at age five, but by age six and six girls were significantly less interested than boys in the game for smart children, but not in the game for hard-working children.
The research, led by Lin Bian, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, and New York University psychology professor Andrei Cimpian and supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), demonstrated how early gender stereotypes take hold.
"Our society tends to associate brilliance with men more than with women, and this notion pushes women away from jobs that are perceived to require brilliance," said Bian.
"Not only do we see that girls just starting out in school are absorbing some of society's stereotyped notions of brilliance, but these young girls are also choosing activities based on these stereotypes. This is heartbreaking," said Cimpian.
"This work offers insight into the intransigence of gender disparities in math and science," said David Moore, program director for the NSF Developmental Sciences program.
"It highlights the importance of attacking the problem of gender disparities in society, because it shows that we are influenced by the society we encounter starting when we are extremely young."