According to a recent study published in the journal Child Development, girls begin losing confidence in their intellectual abilities around the age of puberty.
While third and fourth-grade girls and boys both tended to overestimate their mental powers, “gender differences in self-perceived academic competence … (began) to emergence in fifth or sixth grade.” Lead study author Dr. David A. Cole of the University of Notre Dame noted that from this age on, “boys overestimated and girls underestimated their academic competence.”
Researchers surveyed over 800 students in grades 3-6 over a three-year period. Students filled out a series of questionnaires that were used to identify levels of depression and anxiety in addition to establishing the students’ view of their academic abilities.
Results from the questionnaires indicated that adolescent girls were more likely than boys to suffer from anxiety and depression and were more likely to underestimate their school performance. The report hypothesized that girls’ greater tendency to underestimate their abilities may be linked to their higher incidence of depression and anxiety, given that “boys and girls with similar levels of depression and anxiety did not differ in their tendencies to underestimate their academic competence.”
Study authors noted that previous research has established that girls also tend to blame themselves for failures, while boys are more likely to blame their failure on poor luck and other external factors. The report also cited past findings that teachers’ interactions with girls and boys encourage or perpetuate these beliefs.
Researchers urged further research to determine whether or not “children’s interpretation of actual feedback” from teachers caused girls to feel more anxiety and depression.