“Why do you always have to analyze everything?”
I’ve heard this question many times, but I remember the first time someone posed it to me directly. I was 11 years old, in the fifth grade, and standing in the hallway surrounded by my classmates. I don’t remember who asked it, but I do remember that the question was quickly followed by an unsettling chorus of assent. To that point, I’d enjoyed the process of learning and felt free to excel academically. But something shifted in that moment.
Although I didn’t realize it then, our collective understanding of intelligence—and my perception of my own intelligence—had been taking shape for several years. A recent study by Lin Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, reveals that children as young as six are already forming views about the nature of intelligence, including associating it with masculinity. Standing in that hallway was the first time I remember questioning whether being a “smart” girl was a benefit or a social liability.Reporting on Bian’s research, Ed Yong of The Atlantic notes that society’s tendency to associate intelligence with masculinity can create hurdles for women. “The stereotype that brilliance and genius are male traits is common among adults,” Yong writes, “but Bian’s study shows that the seeds of this pernicious bias are planted at a very early age ... [and] can have lasting consequences.”Citing a parallel study, Yong also notes that “in many academic fields, like physics, math, and philosophy, people believe that success depends on ‘raw, innate talent’” rather than hard work. These biases together predict that we’ll ...1
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