Tying Work or School Success To ‘Brilliance’ Turns Women Away
James Devitt, 13 Jan 18

(Credit: Getty Images)

Messages that tie success in a particular field, job opportunity, or college major to “brilliance” undermine women’s interest because of cultural stereotypes that portray it as a male trait, a new study suggests.

“…the effects of these stereotypes persist over time, continuing to shape women’s educational and career trajectories well into adulthood…”

“We know that women are underrepresented in fields whose members believe you have to be brilliant to succeed,” explains Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor in New York University’s psychology department and the study’s senior author.

“These findings reveal one reason why this is the case: when certain fields or jobs are linked to intellectual talent or brilliance, which is seen as a masculine trait in our culture, women’s interest declines,” Cimpian says.

“These messages also undermine women’s sense of how they might fit in with others—their sense of belonging in the field—and cause women to be uncertain about their chances of success,” adds first author Lin Bian, a visiting researcher at NYU and doctoral student at the University of Illinois at the time of the study who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.

Stereotypes and ‘smartness’

“In earlier work, we found that girls start to associate ‘smartness’ with boys by the time they are 6 years old,” says coauthor Sarah-Jane Leslie, a professor of philosophy and director of the program in linguistics and the program in cognitive science at Princeton University.

“These new findings show that the effects of these stereotypes persist over time, continuing to shape women’s educational and career trajectories well into adulthood,” Leslie says.

In their new study, the researchers conducted a series of experiments that included male and female university undergraduates as well as a set of subjects recruited using Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk,” a tool in which individuals are compensated for completing small tasks that is frequently used in running behavioral science studies.

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