Gender Stereotypes About Math Develop as Early as Second Grade

I-LABSPublication, Research

young student with pencil solving problems

Children express the stereotype that “math is for boys, not for girls” as early as second grade, according to a new study by I-LABS’ researchers Dario Cvencek, Andrew Meltzoff and Anthony Greenwald. The research findings, published in the May/June 2011 issue of Child Development suggests that, for girls, lack of interest in math may come from culturally communicated messages about math being more appropriate for boys than for girls.

Math self-concept – how much youngsters identify themselves with math, as in “math is for me”  – has been left out of previous studies of the math-gender stereotype.  Even though other studies using self-report measures show that boys and girls alike make the “math is for boys” linkage, the studies don’t distinguish between whether girls simply know about the math-gender stereotype but aren’t fazed by it, or are instead applying it to themselves so that it affects their identity, interests and actions.

The researchers adapted a computer-based categorization test, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), for use with children.  The adult version of the IAT – developed by Anthony Greenwald, UW psychology professor and co-author of the paper – probes implicit self-concepts, stereotypes and attitudes.  The study included 247 children (126 girls and 121 boys) in grades 1-5 from Seattle-area schools.

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