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Study: Female Undergraduates Underestimate Their ‘Smarts’

Why is it that more females aren’t represented in the field of science? Many may have theories on this; however, it’s hard to ignore that many young women out their underestimate their abilities. A study team stemming from Arizona State University decided to dive into this question, and recently conducted a study on how undergraduate females and males perceive their intelligence within a biology class.

Medical News Today revealed that lead author Katelyn Cooper, gathered 250 participants, all enrolled in a biology class, to assess and compare their intelligence with others within the class; they were also requested to compare their intelligence with those who they worked with the most.

While the results may not shock anyone, the research revealed that males are over three times likelier than females to think they are smarter than the person they work with the most; this didn’t vary on whether their collaborators were male or female.

The teamed compared female and male students with the same grade point average and what was revealed was that those students that were men thought they had a higher intelligence than 66% of their classmates, versus the females, who hit 54%.

Why such a huge gap? Sarah Brownell, co-senior study author believes it may be ingrained within a female’s mind and has more to do with how they feel about their academic abilities and themselves than anything else. As she notes, when students collaborate they are inevitably going to make comparisons between themselves and their peers. She adds that females are disproportionately believing they are not as good as the classmates they are working with, which is concerning.

Cooper chimed in the results and stated that because females lean towards underestimating themselves, this could point to a reason as to why it is harder for them to gravitate towards science careers.

Still, Cooper does have a solution. Setting up a group environment where everyone ‘has a say’ just might be the best way to start changing things. Cooper noted that a past study that her team conducted revealed that empowering all students to voice themselves within a group helped to level an equitable stance when it came to team projects.

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