Men are more likely to be seen as ‘brilliant’ than women, say researchers in a new study measuring global perceptions linked to gender.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that these stereotyped views are an instance of implicit bias, which is when associations are automatically activated in our minds.
“Stereotypes that portray brilliance as a male trait are likely to hold women back across a wide range of prestigious careers,” said study lead author Daniel Storage from the University of Denver in the US.
“Understanding the prevalence and magnitude of this gender-brilliance stereotype can inform future efforts to increase gender equity in career outcomes,” said study senior author Andrei Cimpian from the New York University in the US.
Previous work by Cimpian and his colleagues has suggested that women are underrepresented in careers where success is perceived to depend on high levels of intellectual ability (e.g., brilliance, genius), including those in science and technology.
Less understood are the factors that explain this phenomenon. To address this, the current study explored the potential impact of stereotypes.
In a series of five experiments, the research team surveyed more than 3,000 people from over 78 countries including US women and men as well as US girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 10.
To find out more about gender perceptions of brilliance, the researchers adopted an indirect way of measuring the stereotype – namely, a tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT).
IAT measures the degree of overlap between concepts (e.g., brilliant and male) without explicitly asking participants whether or not they hold stereotyped views.
The researchers consistently found evidence for an implicit stereotype associating brilliance with men more than with women.
The magnitude of this stereotype was striking as well–for example, it was similar in strength to the implicit stereotype that associates men more than women with careers (and women more than men with the family), which was identified in earlier work.
The team also gauged explicit stereotypes, directly asking participants whether they believed that men are more brilliant than women.
In marked contrast to the implicit stereotyping measures, participants reported disagreeing with this idea–and, in one study, explicitly associated the quality of being “super smart” with women more than with men.
The finding is consistent with previous scholarship showing that people are unlikely to admit to stereotyping, reinforcing the importance of measuring such perceptions through more subtle means.