Girls as young as 6 already doubt that they could ever be as smart or as capable as men, according to a new report.
Researchers came to this heart-rending conclusion after conducting a study where they told a story about a "really, really smart" person to 400 children between the ages of 5 and 7, asking them to identify the gender of this described brilliant person.
According to the Associated Press, researchers presented four photos — two of men and two of women, both professionally dressed — for the children to choose among. They found that 5-year-old boys and girls were likely to "associate brilliance with their own gender," choosing a photo of a man if they were a boy and a photo of a woman if they were a girl.
However, this tendency took a dramatic turn for girls ages 6 and 7 — they were "significantly less likely" to see the "really, really smart" person as a woman.
The same was true when scientists conducted the study using photos of children.
Researchers discovered an interesting caveat, though, when they asked children to choose the gender of someone who "[does] well in school": Girls tended to pick girls.
Andrei Cimpian, co-author of the study and NYU associate professor of psychology, said this finding points to the pervasiveness of such gender stereotypes.
"These stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence," Cimpian told the AP.
Cimpian said he and his colleagues weren't able to pin down the exact origins of these damaging ideas about gender and intelligence. But it's safe to say that magazines for young girls teaching them how to "wake up pretty" versus boys' magazines encouraging to "explore your future," for example, aren't helping.
University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Rebecca Bigler said it's also possible that children begin developing these gender biases around ages 6 and 7 because it's around this time they begin learning about history's "geniuses" in school — and school curricula generally emphasize male figures.
She suggested that including more education on gender discrimination at a young age can help prevent children from forming these harmful biases.
She said, "Children will then be ... more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential and contribute to social justice and equally by pursuing these careers themselves."