Washington: Women tend to underestimate their intelligence while men perceive themselves as smarter, even when their academic grades are similar, a first-of-its-kind study has found.
The study shows that gender greatly impacts students' perceptions of their own intelligence, particularly when they compare themselves to others.
Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University in the US talked with hundreds of students as an academic adviser and those conversations led to this research.
"I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend," said Cooper, lead author of the study published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education.
"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," she said.
Researchers asked college students enrolled in a 250-person biology course about their intelligence.
Specifically, the students were asked to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with in class.
Researchers found that women were far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men.
When comparing a female and a male student, both with a GPA of 3.3, the male student is likely to say he is smarter than 66 per cent of the class, and the female student is likely to say she is smarter than only 54 per cent of the class.
In addition, when asked whether they are smarter than the person they worked most with in class, the pattern continued.
Male students are 3.2 times more likely than females to say they are smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.
Previous research has shown that male students in undergraduate biology classes perceive men to be smarter than women about course material.
However, this is the first study to examine undergraduate student perceptions about their own intelligence compared to other people in the class, researchers said.
As we transition more of our courses into active learning classes where students interact more closely with each other, we need to consider that this might influence how students feel about themselves and their academic abilities," said Sara Brownell, assistant professor at ASU.
In a world where perceptions are important, female students may choose not to continue in science because they may not believe they are smart enough, Brownell said.
These false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science, researchers said.