A new study suggests that girls start to view boys as smarter as early as age 6. And that's even though, just a year earlier, boys and girls both associate brilliance with their own gender. "It's really heartbreaking," lead author Lin Bian of the University of Illinois tells the Atlantic. The impact is immediate, she says, and the implications are far-reaching. Girls quickly become less inclined to choose games that are characterized as being for smart kids, as well as subjects linked to "raw, innate talent," which in turn affects career hopes, she says in a New York University video published by the Washington Post. In the study, kids ages 5 to 7 were read a story about a "really, really smart" person, then were shown photos of men and women and asked to guess who the person was. The youngest kids were split, but the older ones mostly guessed it was a man.
A second, similar experiment reaffirmed those results, reports the Los Angeles Times. A psychologist not involved with the study theorizes that the changes set in after age 5 because that's when kids leave kindergarten and enter more formal schooling, where gender stereotypes might already be prevalent. Previous research has found that men and women, including parents, perpetuate them. For instance, the Atlantic notes that the term "is my son gifted?" is Googled 2.5 times more than "is my daughter gifted?" Teachers and characters in literature and films can also play large roles, so some experts say that adults need to work harder to expose the accomplishments of smart women to girls and boys. (Engineering toys aimed at girls are so rare that this one went viral.)