Can Role Models Make Girls Feel Smarter?

An article kept popping up in my social media channels last week – it was titled ‘Girls feel less 'smart' than boys by age 6, research says’. As a mom to two girls, ages 6 and 7, you can imagine that it caught my attention!

The article highlights these research findings based on experiments with 400 children…

  • At the age of 5, girls viewed themselves as being just as capable as their male counterparts in terms of brilliance
  • By the age of 6, girls already consider boys more likely to show brilliance and more suited to "really, really smart" activities
  • One theory for this switch is that it coincides with the age that kids have more formal schooling and have much more exposure to cultural messages regarding the types of activities that are for really smart kids
  • Researchers say that a strong female role model has shown in some instances to "inoculate" girls from this social stereotype

I’m thrilled that we are helping change perceptions with our STEM role models – 72% are female and all of them are brilliant. They are doing ‘really, really smart’ activities such as curing cancer, sending a spacecraft to Jupiter, protecting the environment, or teaching the next generation of STEM workers!

Being a lover of research, I decided to ask my own daughters some of the same questions posed in the study.  Here were their responses…

  • From my 6 year old - "Both boys and girls are smart and can do the same things."
  • From my 7 year old - "Actually I think girls have bigger brains than boys – they just didn’t know that back in the old days!"

There you have it! Their responses counter the research and I hope that is a bit in part because they have strong female role models in their lives - role models that love STEM and help to STEM brainwash my daughters! Do you have similarly aged kids? If so, ask them for their thoughts on this topic - I would love to hear what they say.

P.S. A special shout out and photo credit to my cousin Deb – the photo in this blog post is her daughter doing a ‘really, really smart’ activity of building a robot! Deb herself is a super star role model – she is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with a PhD and she does an amazing job of exposing her daughter and son to all things STEM.

Laura Farrelly1 Comment