As women continue to make great strides in male-dominated jobs, a new study released on Thursday offered some discouraging news. Girls as young as six, according to a study published in the journal "Science", are led to believe that men are inherently smarter and more talented than women.
These feelings of inferiority ultimately make girls less inclined to pursue ambitious careers or novel activities.
Though the idea of gender stereotypes isn't anything new, the study showed that the bias affects children at a young age.
"As a society, we associate a high level of intellectual ability with males more than females, and our research suggests that this association is picked up by children as young 6 and 7," said Andrei Cimpian, associate professor in the psychology department at New York University who also coauthored the study.
The children were told a story about a person who is "really, really smart" and then asked to identify the corresponding person among the photos of two men and two women. At five, boys and girls tended to associate brilliance with their own gender. But as the children became older, the study found, girls were "significantly less likely" to pick women.
In the second part of the study, children were introduced to two board games, one described as a game "for children who are really, really smart" and one " "for children who try really, really hard." Five-year-old girls and boys chose to play the game for smart kids, but at age six and seven, boys still wanted to play that game, while girls opted for the other.
The study doesn't conclude where the stereotypes originate, though outside actors like parents, teachers, and peers are the likely culprits, Cimpian said.
Fortunately, it's possible to curtail these biases. "Instill the idea that success in any line of work is not an innate ability, whatever it is, but rather putting your head down, being passionate about what you are doing," Cimpian said, adding that exposure to successful women who can serve as role models also helps.