Sunday, April 9, 2017

CULTURES OF BRILLIANCE, ACADEMIC GENDER GAPS, AND GROWTH MINDSET

Several recent reports provide strong research-based evidence that both 
  • societal stereotypes, and 
  • the perceptions held by practitioners within the academic disciplines 
are at the culprit of gender gaps across various academic fields.  The perceived traits such as “intellectual brilliance,” being a “genius,” and having “natural talent” are often associated with men and not women. For example, a recent analysis of Google search queries by American parents indicates that queries weighted towards boys involve intelligence while queries weighted towards girls involve appearance. The author of the study, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes:
In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?”
In a recent study Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests, Bian et al. found that at age 5, boys and girls considered themselves “really smart” equally often. However, by age 6, girls tend to avoid games/activities perceived as intended for “really smart” kids. You can also read about this study in this New York Times article, and watch the short description here:

In another study published in Science in 2015, Leslie et al. demonstrate that the way brilliance is viewed in different academic fields correlates with the percentage of women practitioners in that field. You can read the commentary on the paper and watch the description of the research by Dr. Leslie:

Finally, in a recent PLOS ONE article, Storage et al. looked at the frequency of the words “brilliant” and “genius” in over 14 million teaching evaluations on RateMyProfessors.com. The authors write:
Fields in which the words “brilliant” and “genius” were used more frequently on RateMyProfessors.com also had fewer female and African American Ph.D.s. Looking at an earlier stage in students’ educational careers, we found that brilliance-focused fields also had fewer women and African Americans obtaining bachelor’s degrees. These relationships held even when accounting for field-specific averages on standardized mathematics assessments, as well as several competing hypotheses concerning group differences in representation.
Believing some people are “intellectually brilliant,” “geniuses,”or have “natural talent” is contrary to having a growth mindset. In fact, thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed reduces stereotype threat

Students who adopt growth mindset as their own learning philosophy are less prone to the risk of conforming to societal or disciplinary stereotypes that associate their aptitude or intellectual capacity with gender, race, nationality, previous educational experience, etc. 

Carol Dweck summarized these findings and their association with the growth mindset principles in a short clip available here:



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