Over at Slate this week, I discuss a recent study in Psychological Science that examined how messages about gender and other social categories are interpreted by young children. Previous studies have shown that when children believe that something about them is innate -- such as being good or bad at a particular subject in school -- their performance can suffer, because they are less likely to engage in constructive, hard work to do well or improve.
The experiment was designed to feel out whether hearing a gender stereotype about a game could change the way children approached it:
“…144 children, ages 4 to 7, played a game in which they looked at pictures of 3-D blocks shown from different angles, then matched pairs of images that showed the same block from a different perspective.
After one round, the adult leading the experiment told some children that the other gender group was successful at that game (so girls heard, “Boys are good at this game”). A second group was told about other individuals’ skills (“That girl is good at this game”), and a third group heard no further information..
Then the children played a second, more difficult round. The scores of those who were given the gender prompts fell by an average of 12.8 percent. By contrast, children who were told about another individual child’s success or failure stayed about the same. Scores fell 2.9 percent among the kids who heard nothing.
These changes in behavior speak volumes about stereotypes that children absorb from those around them: In this case, a relative stranger appears to have had an immediate effect on how children approached the task at hand.”
Read the whole article on Slate.