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Concordia Public Scholar Maxine Iannuccilli investigates how children acquire beliefs about gender and intelligence

The psychology PhD student hopes her research can help challenge and dismantle stereotypes
October 30, 2023
Young smiling woman with long, dark brown hair, wearing glasses and a black top.
Maxine Iannuccilli: “Gender stereotypes influence individuals’ academic and professional successes and their access to opportunities.”

While the once widely-held assumption that men are smarter than women has been long disproven, stereotypes about gender and intelligence persist. Public Scholar Maxine Iannuccilli wants to disrupt these deeply ingrained ideas by identifying how children acquire beliefs about gender at a young age.

According to Iannuccilli, widely held ideas about intelligence lead to the problematic gender gaps we still see today. She recently co-authored a study that found that women are less likely to pursue academic subjects they perceive to require brilliance.

By investigating what types of gendered messages young girls and boys hear about their abilities, the PhD student in the Department of Psychology hopes to uncover how this belief is internalized and determine effective ways to intervene.

Iannuccilli’s research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

‘Beliefs about gender affect our emotional well-being and how we express our identities’

What do we already know about how children acquire gender stereotypes?

Maxine Iannuccilli: There are a lot of different sources of gender stereotypical beliefs: the ways adults talk to kids, the way peers talk to each other, the little cues in the environments that tell us what’s for this gender versus what’s for that gender. The media has always been a big source of gendered ideas and gendered messages. These are all examples of sources that convey messages about social roles. There are many, many factors that inform kids about gender from a very early age.

What methods are you utilizing to determine how children receive these messages?

MI: I’m looking at the messages parents give to their children in response to setbacks as one potential source of gender stereotypes about intellectual ability. There’s some research to suggest that we transmit a lot of our beliefs about intelligence in how we respond to failure. In our experiments, we observe how parents talk to their kids as they attempt to solve really hard puzzles together. We are examining whether parents’ feedback differs based on the child’s gender. The aim is to uncover subtle gendered messages kids hear about ability.

What do you hope the impact of your research will be?

MI: The overall goal is to get a better understanding of how gender stereotypes are transmitted. This way, we can find effective ways to intervene and ultimately prevent the perpetuation of such beliefs. Gender stereotypes influence individuals’ interests and motivations, their academic and professional successes, and access to opportunities.

Beliefs about gender and gender roles also affect our emotional well-being and how we express our identities. This applies to all individuals. When we work toward ways of intervening and dismantling rigid beliefs about gender, we are ultimately helping to create spaces that promote acceptance and belonging for everyone — and offer equal opportunities for all individuals.

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Concordia’s Public Scholar Program.



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