The researchers found a trend: The more importance that the academics in a given field placed on being brilliant, the lower the percentage of women with Ph.D.s there was in that field, according to the study, published today (Jan. 15) in the journal Science.
People's ideas about the importance of in attaining success didn't seem related to the difficulty of their field. Indeed, fields that emphasized brilliance and had lower female participation were not necessarily more difficult to gain entry into, compared with other disciplines, said study author Sarah-Jane Leslie, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University in New Jersey.
"This strongly suggests that women are not failing to pursue careers in certain fields because they are unable to meet the standards in order to participate in that field," she said. "So rather, there must be something else going on."
The researchers proposed that cultural ideas about women's innate talent could be what's stopping them from pursuing careers in certain fields, even though no real intellectual difference between genders has ever been proven, they said.
"Cultural associations link men, but not women, with raw intellectual brilliance," Leslie said. "To get a feel for this, we can consider, for example, how difficult it is to think of even a single pop-cultural portrayal of a woman who displays that same special spark of innate, unschooled genius as Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House from the show 'House M.D.,' or Will Hunting from the movie 'Good Will Hunting.'"
Instead, women who are presented as intellectually accomplished tend to be portrayed as incredibly hardworking — for example, Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" series, Leslie said. "In this way, women's accomplishments are seen as grounded in long hours, poring over books, rather than in some special raw effortless brilliance."
The findings suggest a new explanation for the gender imbalances seen in many academic fields, including not only STEM (science, , engineering and math), but also humanities and social sciences, the researchers said. Women are well represented at the Ph.D. level in some sciences, such as molecular biology, whereas in some subjects within the humanities, such as in philosophy, women make up only a third of Ph.D.s.
The researchers also found that the fields whose members felt that a spark of genius was required for success were less likely to have African Americans with Ph.D.s.
"Like women, African Americans are the targets of negative cultural stereotypes about their intellectual abilities," said study co-author Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"It is important to be aware of the message we send to , including our students, about how one becomes successful in a field," Cimpian said. "If we avoid labeling and categorizing others based on their perceived intellectual gifts, and instead emphasize what can be achieved with sustained effort and dedication, we might create an atmosphere that is equally attractive to men and women."
source: livescience.com by Bahar Gholipour