Study: Perceived Aptitude for Brilliance Shown to Impact Gender Diversity in Scientific Fields

Cultural stereotypes that suggest that men are more likely to possess a natural brilliance than women may explain the gender gap seen in many academic fields, including many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to a new study published in Science.

Lead authors Sarah-Jane Leslie, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, and Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggest that the underrepresentation of women seen in many academic fields may be caused by the academic community’s belief that “raw, innate talent” is a main requirement for success in these fields. The researchers hypothesize that these beliefs, in combination with cultural stereotypes that only men possess this type of talent, create the message that women are less suited than men to pursue these fields. The end result of this message? A lack of gender diversity in fields that stress the necessity of “brilliance” for success.

The team of researchers, which also included Meredith Meyer, assistant professor of psychology at Otterbein University and Edward Freeland, associate director of the Survey Research Center at Princeton University, surveyed 1,820 faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from 30 different STEM, social science, and humanities fields at public and private universities across the United States. Participants were asked to rate their agreement with statements regarding their specific disciplines, such as, “Being a top scholar in my field requires a special aptitude that just can’t be taught.”

The team determined that fewer women were represented in fields where participants responded that their specific field required a natural talent.

This research suggests it is important to be aware of the messages that academics send about how one becomes successful in a field. If the practitioners of a field avoid labeling and categorizing others based on a perception of “innate” intellectual gifts, and instead emphasize what can be achieved with sustained effort and dedication, they may create an atmosphere that is equally encouraging of men and women.

 

 

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Source Contact Information

Institution:
Princeton University
Title:
Professor of Philosophy
Email:
sjleslie@princeton.edu
Phone:
609-258-4493
Institution:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Title:
Associate Professor of Psychology
Email:
acimpian@illinois.edu
Phone:
217-333-0852
Institution:
Otterbein University
Title:
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Email:
mmeyer@otterbein.edu
Phone:
614-823-1615
Institution:
Princeton University
Title:
Associate Director, Survey Research Center (SRC)
Email:
efreelan@princeton.edu
Phone:
609-258-1854