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Results: Bian, Lin

Despite the numerous intellectual contributions made by women, we find evidence of bias against them in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability. In the first experiment, 347 participants were asked to refer individuals for a job. Approximately half of the participants were led to believe that the job required high-level intellectual ability; the other half were not. A Bayesian mixed-effects logistic regression revealed that the odds of referring a woman were 38.3% lower when the job description mentioned intellectual ability, consistent with the possibility of gender bias. We also found evidence of gender bias in Experiment 2, which was a preregistered direct replication of Experiment 1 with a larger and more diverse sample (811 participants; 44.6% people of color). Experiment 3 provided a developmental investigation of this bias by testing whether young children favor boys over girls in the context of intellectually challenging activities. Five- to 7-year-olds (N = 192) were taught how to play a team game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children; the other half were not. Children then selected three teammates from among six unfamiliar children. Children’s initial selections were driven by ingroup bias (i.e., girls chose girls and boys chose boys), but children subsequently showed bias against girls, choosing girls as teammates for the “smart” game only 37.6% of the time (vs. 53.4% for the other game). Bias against women and girls in contexts where brilliance is prized emerges early and is a likely obstacle to their success.

Pervasive cultural stereotypes associate brilliance with men, not women. Given these stereotypes, messages suggesting that a career requires brilliance may undermine women’s interest. Consistent with this hypothesis, linking success to brilliance lowered women’s (but not men’s) interest in a range of educational and professional opportunities introduced via hypothetical scenarios. It also led women more than men to expect that they would feel anxious and would not belong. These gender differences were explained in part by women’s perception that they are different from the typical person in these contexts. In sum, the present research reveals that certain messages—in particular, those suggesting that brilliance is essential to success—may contribute to the gender gaps that are present in many fields.

Common stereotypes associate high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance (such as physics and philosophy). In this paper, the research team shows that these stereotypes are endorsed by, and influence the interests of, children as young as 6. Specifically, 6-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart.” Also at age 6, girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are “really, really smart.” These findings suggest that gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and have an immediate effect on children’s interests.

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