Girls’ Confidence in Talents Declines by Age Six

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Girls’ Confidence

You may have suspected this but it’s official – Girls’ Confidence in their own talents declines by age six according to a study of confidence published on Science.

That is to say, girls see themselves as less innately talented than boys. Furthermore, according to a group of US researchers, this lack of belief in girls’ talents starts when they are only six years old.

Naturally, the results of this study of confidence are disheartening and could snowball to affect future careers and girls’ overall confidence.

Study of Confidence

So what exactly was found? The study on 400 children, initially found both five-year-old boys and girls thought their own gender was ‘brilliant’. However only one year later, gender differences emerge.

The team from Princeton University, New York University and the University of Illinois said stereotypes were starting to show. Above all, girls’ confidence in their talents is diminishing. Importantly, suspected influences include exposure to media, teachers, parents and other children.

Girls’ Talents

This study of confidence put sets of five, six and seven-year-olds through different experiments. For example:

Experiment One

Children are read a story about someone who is ‘really, really smart’, but it is not clear who the story is about. They then guess the protagonist from four pictures – two of men and two of women.

At age five, boys pick men and girls pick women around 75% of the time. But fast-forward a year to age six and boys are still picking men. However, girls are now slightly more likely to pick men too.

Experiment Two

In another scenario, groups of children play a new board game. But for some it’s called a game ‘for children who are really, really smart’, and for others it was described as ‘for children who try really, really hard’.

Six and seven-year old girls are as likely as boys to enjoy the game for those who try. Importantly though, girls are much less likely to say they enjoy the game for smart children. Girls’ confidence that they are smart is slipping.

Girl’s Talents Underestimated

Prof Andrei Cimpian, one of the researchers, said, “The message that comes out of these data is that young kids are exposed to the cultural notion that genius is more likely a male than a female quality”. “It’s disheartening to see these effects emerge so early. When you see them, you realize how much of an uphill battle it’s going to be.”

His research has previously looked at academic careers associated with needing innate brilliance in order to succeed. It argued that the higher people rated the need for genius – such as in physics or philosophy – the lower the number of women involved.

Prof Cimpian added: “Early on, society’s stereotypes can create differences in trajectory.

“At five, six or seven you’re not thinking about a career, but soon you’re making decisions about what courses to take and what extracurriculars to take part in. Girls’ Confidence “Even if the difference starts small it can snowball into something a lot bigger.”

How Do We Increase Girls’ Confidence?

Fellow researcher Dr Lin Bian advises parents and teachers to emphasize the importance of hard work. For instance, studies suggest that everyone does better when hard work is believed to be the key to success.

For girls’ confidence this is key. “In our studies, girls might be particularly impacted by the messages focusing on ‘hard work’ – they became equally interested in playing the game as boys.

Gender Confidence

The UK’s Fawcett Society campaigns on the gender pay gap and argues early differences. – For example, blue and superheroes versus pink and princesses – is part of the girls’ confidence problem.

Sam Smethers, the organization’s chief executive, said, “This is a massive issue and it is holding us all, but particularly girls, back.

“Our research found that young women experienced gender stereotypes at school and from an early age.”

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