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Study: Young Girls Made to Think Men Are Smarter Than Women

What this study tells us: our daughters need better role models, and, yes they can be the women in Miss Universe.

With the conclusion of the 65th Miss Universe pageant, another strong and smart woman takes center stage. France’s Iris Mittenaere is a radiant beauty, and, as her answer to the final Miss Universe question shows, she understands what it takes to become a success. For the past five years, Iris has been ardently pursuing a degree in Dental Surgery, according to the Miss Universe website. 

The new Miss Universe is just another example that our daughters can be and do anything. But we need to show them the way as early as possible. Because as this new study reveals, girls may not think the same way about themselves when compared to boys.

As young as 6 years old, girls already believe that men were smarter and more talented than women, according to research recently published in the journal Science. The belief in this stereotype, undeniably present in current society, is hindering girls from pursuing careers in fields like math and physics, says the researchers, causing gender gaps in “many prestigious occupations.” 

The study involved 400 children ages 5 to 7 years old. They were told a story by the researchers about a person who was “really, really smart,” a child’s way of describing brilliance and genius. “We were very careful to leave out any clues as to the person's gender,” researcher Lin Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, told CNN.

The kids were then asked to choose who they thought the person in the story was between two photos of men and two pictures of women. The choices looked alike and were all dressed professionally. Results showed that 5-year-olds were likely to choose their gender -- the girls chose women, and the boys picked the men. However, as the kids grew older and started to attend school, girls ages 6 to 7 were “significantly less likely” to pick women. Boys, on the other hand, were still picking men. 

Interestingly, however, when asked whether who they thought got better grades in school, both boys and girls were more likely to choose their gender, showing that girls’ idea of brilliance were not rooted in school performance, notes the researchers. 

In another experiment, the children were asked to choose between board games, one for “really, really smart kids” and another for “kids who try really, really hard.” Results coincided with the first experiment. Boys and girls age 5 were equally likely to choose the game for “really, really smart kids,” but, at age 6 and 7, the girls went with the other option. 

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“When they enter school around 5 or 6 years of age, they get to have much more exposure to the cultural message, and that's when they learn a great deal of the information about the social world,” Bian said. “It seems to lead girls away from the types of activities that are for really smart kids.”

Researchers believe this can have an impact on the career choices that girls make in the future. “These stereotypes discourage women's pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance,” the authors wrote. These areas include mathematics, physics, and philosophy. 

The results show that there may be a link to the role models presented to kids at a young age, says experts. Children are exposed to famous scientists, writers, and composers from history through school lessons, but these “geniuses” are predominantly maleRebecca S. Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Associated Press.

There is a need to expose young girls to strong female role models, says researchers. Above all, parents and teachers should emphasize the importance of hard work in achieving success as opposed to the idea of brilliance. “Everyone does better when hard work is perceived as the key to success,” says Bian. That goes for both girls and boys. 

Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and the new Miss Universe are two shining examples of where hard work can take you. Pia had tried three times for the Binibining Pilipinas pageant before winning the crown. In her final answer, Iris recounts how her name wasn’t on the passing list in her first year of medical school. After picking herself up, her next decision was to study harder and buy a new medical textbook. (She did find out a few days later that there had been a mistake, and she had indeed passed.) 

The two belong in good company. The 2017 Miss Universe contestants are passionate about their studies and careers in the sciences. 

1. Miss Haiti Raquel Pelissier (1st runner-up)

Raquel is studying hard for her Master’s degree in Scientific Research in Optometry and Vision. She's also currently working on a research project on the regeneration of the optic nerve. Her dream is to find a cure for blindness.

2. Miss Thailand Chalita Suansane (Top 6 finalist)

Chalita is currently studying Microbiology at Mahasarakham University. Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Chalita also volunteers at an orphanage that houses abused and HIV-positive children. 

3. Miss Indonesia Kezia “Keke” Warouw (Top 13 finalist)

Keke is a degree holder in Informatics Engineering. Currently 25 years old, she was already head of accounting and finance in one company. 

4. Miss USA Deshauna Barber (Top 9 finalist)

Deshauna holds a Masters of Science degree in Computer Information Systems. She currently works as an IT analyst for the U.S. Department of Commerce and is actively serving in the US Army Reserve. 

Sources: Motto, Fortune, CNN

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