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Men perceive themselves as smarter, even compared to women whose grades are just as good

A new study has found that women are far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men.

Image: Shutterstock/Joyseulay

MEN PERCEIVE THEMSELVES as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades prove they are just as smart.

A first-of-its-kind study carried out on university biology students found that gender greatly impacts students’ perceptions of their own intelligence, particularly when they compare themselves to others.

The research, which was published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education, also shows that women are far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men.

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, talked with hundreds of students as an academic advisor and those conversations led to this project.

“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend.

Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.

The ASU research team asked students in the biology course of 250 people to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with.

The researchers found that women are far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men.

When comparing a female and male student who both had a GPA of 3.3 – the male student was likely to say he was smarter than 66% of the class, while the female was likely to say she was smarter than only 54%.

The same pattern continued when asked whether they were smarter than the person they worked most with in class. Male students were 3.2 times more likely than females to say they were smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.

False perceptions

Senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school Sara Brownell said, ”When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other.

This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students.

Brownell said these false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science because they may not believe they are smart enough.

Lead author Katelyn Cooper said: “This is not an easy problem to fix. It’s a mindset that has likely been engrained in female students since they began their academic journeys.

“However, we can start by structuring group work in a way that ensures everyone’s voices are heard. One of our previous studies showed us that telling students it’s important to hear from everyone in the group could be enough to help them take a more equitable approach to group work.”

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