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Study: Widespread bias against women when it comes to intelligence

A new study from New York University (NYU) has revealed that there is a clear bias against girls and women when it comes to intellectual ability. The discovery of this widespread prejudice, which is even held by females themselves, reinforces the fact that gender bias is an ongoing issue.

Study senior author Andrei Cimpian is an associate professor in the NYU Department of Psychology.

“Despite their achievements in the classroom and the workplace, our experiments suggest that women and girls may still encounter bias in circumstances where brilliance is viewed as the key to success,” said Professor Cimpian.

Study first author Lin Bian added, “Although it is intuitive to think of gender bias as an adult phenomenon, the gender imbalances currently seen in many academic and professional fields may actually be due in part to processes that unfold early in development.”

According to national statistics, the intellectual achievements of girls and women in the United States match those of boys and men. Regardless, a series of experiments produced evidence that men and women are not given the same opportunities to pursue intellectually challenging work.

In the first two experiments, more than 1,150 participants were asked to refer individuals for a job. It was implied to half of the participants that the job required high-level intellectual ability, but this was not implied to the other half.

The study revealed that participants were less likely to nominate a female candidate for a job described as requiring brilliance. Overall, the odds of a female candidate being referred were 25.3 percent lower when the job description mentioned intellectual ability. Comparable levels of gender bias were found in both men and women.

The third experiment involved nearly 200 children between the ages of five and seven who were taught how to play a new game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children. When it was time to select teammates, girls were chosen for the “smart” game much less often than boys.

“Our studies add to our current understanding of the processes that lead to women’s underrepresentation in ‘genius fields’ – that is, fields such as physics and philosophy, in which success is generally seen as depending on high-level intellectual ability,” said Professor Cimpian.

“Moreover, while gender bias may be becoming less common in employers’ and supervisors’ ‘public’ behavior, such as hiring or promotion decisions, in part because the possibility of bias is often explicitly discussed in these contexts, young women’s path to a successful career goes through many contexts in which people may be less guarded and – our evidence suggests – may still behave in biased ways.”

The study is published in the journal American Psychologist.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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