Gender stereotypes about intelligence begin early

Girls as young as six years old associate high-level academic ability with men more than women, according to a report published in the journal Science. The study also found that although girls aged five to seven were more likely than boys to associate their own gender with good grades, they did not link these achievements to innate abilities of “brilliance”.

Lin Bian and colleagues carried out a number of tests with children, half of whom were girls, to test the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s ideas of intellectual ability. In the first test, boys and girls aged five, six, and seven were read a story about a highly intelligent person and then asked to guess the person’s gender. Next, they were shown pictures of pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and asked to pick which they thought were highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women.

The results revealed that at age five, girls are just as likely as boys to associate intelligence with their own gender. However, by ages six and seven, girls were less likely than boys to make this association, with girls identifying their own gender as “really, really smart” 48% of the time compared to 65% of the time for boys.

Source: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests (January 2017), Science Vol. 335 (6323) pp.389-391

Counting the benefits of new maths app

A new iPad app designed to bring maths into children’s homes through story time has led to improvements in achievement, according to new research published in Science. The results were particularly significant for children whose parents were anxious about the subject.

In Chicago, 587 families with a child aged 6 or 7 were recruited into the study. All were given an iPad mini and asked to use an app called Bedtime Learning Together (BLT) several times a week over the course of a school year. Of the families in the project, 420 were randomly assigned to use a maths version of the app, and 167 to a control group using a reading version. In each case, children and their parents were asked to read passages and answer corresponding questions that ranged in difficulty. Families could answer as many questions as they wanted during each interaction with the app.

The authors were able to track how often parents used the app with their children. In addition, each child’s maths achievement was assessed at school in a one-to-one session with a trained research assistant, using the Woodcock-Johnson Applied Problems scale, both at the beginning of the trial (before the iPads were distributed) and at the end of the school year.

The authors found that the maths intervention significantly increased children’s maths achievement across the school year compared to the reading control group, especially for children whose parents were habitually anxious about maths. Using the reading app did not have the same effect on maths achievement, showing that it was not academic engagement with parents in general that increased maths achievement, but engagement with maths content specifically.

The authors attribute the success of this app to its simplicity (avoiding distracting elements), and being designed to be used by parents and children together (based on the importance of early parental input, and specifically parent maths talk, for children’s achievement).

Source: Math at Home Adds up to Achievement in School (2015), Science, 350(6257).