The Bright Girl Effect

We are all too familiar with the concept of young girls limiting their intellectual progress because of what they believe about gender norms. This idea is called the “bright girl effect,” the evidence for which is largely derived from three academic studies from the 1980s. (Check out a 2011 article by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., that delves into this topic further and outlines the fascinating theories behind this way of thinking.) But a new series of studies conducted by Case Western Reserve University has attempted to determine if the “bright girl effect” persists into adulthood.

The concept for this research is largely based on something known as “mindset theory,” which suggests that there are two types of mindsets: growth and fixed. Those with growth mindsets believe that intelligence can evolve, while those with fixed mindsets believe that failure is caused by intelligence levels that cannot be changed. Because girls mature so much faster than boys, young girls are more likely to believe that their cognitive abilities are semi-permanent.

Researchers conducted three studies, with close to 400 participants, to test whether this “bright girl effect” developed in later years into a “bright woman effect.” The participants were asked questions to determine their beliefs about the elasticity of their own intelligence. Surveys were conducted with college students and online with adults of all ages. The study asked participants how much they agreed with statements like, “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.”

These studies were some of the first aimed at investigating the effects of measured intelligence, intelligence mindset and gender in adults. The results suggested that the roles of gender have little effect on perceived intelligence levels in women. “Overall, we saw no reliable evidence for a relationship between women’s intelligence and their mindsets,” said Brooke Macnamara, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve and co-author of the study. “Our results do not support the idea that men and women differ in their beliefs about intelligence.”

The findings run contrary to some cornerstones of the mindset field: that females, especially smarter females, tend to believe their intelligence levels are static, and that differences in childhood praise given to boys and girls can heavily influence a person’s later beliefs about their own intelligence.

More than anything, the study proves that women recognize their own abilities and acknowledge that they can grow, continually learn, and even launch groundbreaking new research to show the world that they have faith in themselves and in their ultimate potential.

Guys, it looks like you’re going to need to woman up.

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