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Thursday
Mar172011

Do Gifted Girls & Boys Interpret Difficulty Differently?

RedTracker| Psychology Today suggests that important differences exist between bright girls and gifted boys that impact the decision of girls to give up too quickly. Heidi Grant Halvorson argues that there is a second ‘within’ problem among girls besides their tendency to be ruthlessly tough on themselves.

Halvorson’s graduate advisor Carol Dweck found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was unusually complex, were quick to give up. The higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely she was to adopt a defeatist attitude.

At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science.  So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success.   The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty - what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn.  Bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.

In an anlysis that may be a psychological stretch and yet rings with a kernel of truth, Halvorson argues that because boys are almost always a handful, they receive more coaching words: “If you would just settle down and focus, Josh, you would solve this problem.” 

Alternatively, girls are told “you are “so smart”, “so clever” — as if the attributes are innate. The bright girl child “is” already defined in a more passive way by existing attributes “You are so smart, Anne” , whereas the boy child is in process to becoming something else. He is flawed, so to speak, but is told he can right himself and succeed.

When confronted with challenges that require the girl child to try hard and master something, she doubts her ability, believing that if she is so smart already, she wouldn’t be struggling. Therefore, she’s not up to the task.

The twist of this observation is that if a girl has a long list of what she isn’t good at — she’s probably a Bright Girl. I don’t know if I buy the argument, but it’s an interesting perspective to considerAnne

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