Men, on average, think they’re more intelligent than two-thirds of their peers, while women are more accurate in their assessment about how smart they might be.
That’s the finding of new research out of Arizona State University in the United States.
Katelyn Cooper, co-author of the research, said hundreds of students were interviewed about their experiences.
“We noticed that more women were talking about this fear of being perceived as stupid,” she said.
The study looked particularly at biology students, within the context of factors that influence learning in that subject.
“We wanted to understand what university biology students actually thought of their own intelligence and how they compared themselves to other students in the class,” Ms Cooper told RN Drive.
Students were asked the question: “What per cent of your physiology classmates do you think that you’re smarter than?”
They were asked to think about the person that they work most closely with in class, and if they thought they were smarter than, or less smart than that person.
The study found the average male student, with an average academic ability, thought he was smarter than 66 per cent of students.
Female students with the exact same academic ability only thought they were smarter than 54 per cent of students.
Ms Cooper said the women in the study were likely giving an accurate estimation.
“Males seem to have an enhanced perception of their intelligence,” she said.
But she also pointed out that only 33 per cent of women said they were smarter than their classmate, so at times they were under-estimating their intelligence.
1. Ms Cooper said men’s exaggeration of their intelligence could be working for them.
“If we look at the leaders in science, many of [them] are actually male,” she said.
Ms Cooper said increased confidence in academic ability can be very important when deciding whether to continue with science or fight for leadership roles.
2. Thinking you are good at something can help you actually become good at that thing.
“There have been studies to show that self-efficacy, or how good someone believes they might be at a task, can predict how good they are at a task,” Ms Cooper explained.
3. Thinking that people with your traits are not good at something can mean you will not be good at that thing.
“There’s also research on “stereotype threat” which shows that if someone thinks that there is a stereotype against, let’s say, their gender â€” so, women aren’t good at math â€” they will actually under-perform if they’re reminded of that stereotype.”
The study found women’s perceptions of their intelligence were generally more accurate than their male counterparts’, but Ms Cooper said accuracy is not the issue â€” the gender gap is.
“We really want students to predict their intelligence in the same way so that we don’t see this gap, especially where we have more males teaching at college level, more males doing research, and more males in leadership positions.”
She said women shouldn’t hold back when talking about their intelligence, despite being socialised to be more polite and hold back on singing their own praises.
“It’s important that if we’re going to create a more equitable, more diverse scientific community that women should be more forthright about how smart they are,” she said.
Ms Cooper said the same result had been shown in chemistry and physics classes, and it would be interesting to see if the same gap existed in humanities and the arts.