British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow presents findings on stereotyped perceptions of effort and achievement among schoolchildren

2 May 2019

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Bonny Hartley (University of Greenwich) co-presented findings from two studies into gender-stereotyped perceptions of effort and  achievement by boys and girls, at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Harrogate.

A poster presentation by Dr Hartley with Professor Robbie Sutton (University of Kent) showed that school children think boys can be brilliant without working hard but girls only do well when they make an effort.

The authors conducted two studies to examine whether children stereotypically attribute school effort and achievement to girls, but effortless achievement to boys.  A total of 295 children (aged 6- 11 years) read several short stories describing a child in relation to how hard they worked at school and if they were top of the class. The children were asked to say if they thought the child was a boy or a girl and rate how confident they were of their choice.

The results showed that when the story was about someone who worked hard and was top of their class the children were more confident that this was a girl.

When the story was about a child who didn’t work hard and was top of the class they were more likely to choose a boy.  They also were more likely to choose a boy when the child was doing badly and not working hard.

Dr Hartley said: “With the current debate on the state of boys’ educational achievements it’s important to understand how young children perceive the link between achievement and hard work.

“Our findings are consistent with the general cultural stereotype that brilliance is male and diligence is female. Finding this perception amongst children, that boys’ will either be effortless achievers, or do badly regardless of whether they work hard, whilst girls will be effortful achievers is concerning.”

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