Male students overestimate their intelligence contrary to women

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Is intelligence a matter of gender? Are sciences the preserve of men? These die-hard stereotypes have persisted over the years. However, an unprecedented study aims to explain why, by highlighting illusory inferiority and superiority complexes, affecting women and men respectively.

Over the past decades women rights activists have been hammering that women have as much their place in scientific studies and careers as men. But the message is still struggling to get into people’s minds. It seems that even women are struggling to believe it. Because, of course, the intellectual abilities do not depend on the gender, but the perception that one has so, according to researchers at the University of Arizona.

Through surveys, Katelyn Cooper and her colleagues studied how university students perceived their intellectual abilities. Avoiding mathematics, physics and engineering sciences, classically labeled as men’s worlds, they have deliberately studied a class of biology, as this discipline seems more welcoming to women. In fact, of the 202 students consulted by researchers, 130 were women.

What researchers found is distressing. The polls reveal that female students are more likely to suffer from a lack of confidence in their abilities than their peers, even if they score high. On average, men consider themselves to be smarter than 66% of students in the class, while women rate themselves as better than 54% of students.

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“This study shows that women are more likely to think they are less talented than other students,” says Sara Brownell, co-author of the research, published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education. This perception error could impact the career and career choices of female students. Feeling insufficiently intelligent, they risk dropping out of science domains.

“This state of mind has probably been rooted in the students since the beginning of their studies,” says Katelyn Cooper in a statement from the University of Arizona. It could be fueled by the stereotypes that scientific disciplines are reserved for men, creating a kind of vicious circle. This phenomenon would explain, at least in part, why women are still underrepresented in science.

As part of this study, Katelyn Cooper and her colleagues asked the 202 students to rate their intelligence relative to the class. Women tend to underestimate their intelligence, conversely for men, but this is also the case for students whose mother tongue is not English. They have a lower opinion of their abilities than men and English-speaking students in general.

The students were also asked to evaluate their performances in relation to their closest comrades, namely those with whom they regularly work in pairs. Once again, men showed greater self-confidence: they are three times more likely than female students to judge themselves superior to their usual partner, whether the latter is a man or a woman.

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This gap is also reflected in speech. Students who think they are smarter than their buddy participate three times more in class. On the other hand, students (women and non-native speakers) who depreciate their faculties participate less, for fear of being judged stupid or failing to express themselves correctly. However, lack of participation can in turn have negative consequences for learning and make student performance worse.

If participation is a problem, since foreign students do not dare to participate, active pedagogy, currently in vogue, could also make things worse. According to the researchers, this model, which favors interactions between students in class, can push them to compare each other and lead precisely to a misjudgment of the intellectual performance of some students. They believe that, for example, the modalities of group work should be reviewed in order to ensure a fair speaking opportunity.

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Paige Driessen

Paige is an Arizona native who loves the outdoor life. She writes about a wide range of topics for The Talking Democrat