A new study published in the journal Science suggests girls as old as 6 years old can be led to believe men are smarter and more talented than women, and would never be able to achieve the greatness of a man.
Co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at New York University, Andrei Cimpian said as a society, we often associate high levels of intellectual ability with males more so than female.
"Our research suggests that this association is picked up by children as young 6 and 7," Cimpian said.
According to the study that looked at 400 boys and girls and playing to a child's idea of brilliance, the children were told a story about a person who is “really, really smart.” When asked to identify the person described between two pictures of men and two pictures of women, the 5 year olds each chose their own gender — both boys chose men and both girls chose women.
Yet as they became older, the responses supported more gender stereotypes. When asked the same question to 6 and 7-year-old girls, they became “significantly less likely” to choose the woman in the photo. When asked to pick out someone who looks like they do well in school, the girls picked the women in the photo — meaning, they believe being smart is not based off of how well you do in school.
"These stereotypes float free of any objective markers of achievement and intelligence," Cimpian said.
In the second part of Cimpian's study, the children did another activity “for [those] who are really, really smart” and for those “who try really, really had.”
Five year olds were more likely to play the game for the smart kids, while boys from ages 6 and 7 still wanted to play that game, girls chose to play the second game.
"There isn't anything about the game itself that becomes less interesting for girls, but rather it's the description of it as being for kids that are really, really smart," he said.
The authors of the study suggest that these stereotypes not only discourage women's pursuit of many prestigious careers, but that women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance.
While the study writes it is unclear how boys and girls tend to mold themselves into stereotypes, it is suspected that parents, peers, and teachers all play a role in the development.
"Instill the idea that success in any line of work is not an innate ability, whatever it is, but rather putting your head down, being passionate about what you are doing," Cimpian said.
The maker of the Barbie doll has even taken steps to slam gender stereotypes with their latest “you can be anything,” campaign that tells girls to be whatever they want to be.
Professor of psychology, Rebecca S. Bigler of the University of Texas tells NBC News that stereotypes develop early on and it is our responsibility to explain to our children how history shaped our notions today and that laws prevented women from becoming great scientists, artists, composers, writers, explorers and leaders.
"Children will then be ... more likely to believe in their own intellectual potential and contribute to social justice and equally by pursuing these careers themselves," Bigler said.