The Daily Illini

University of Illinois study shows students have gender biases

By Abby Paeth, Assistant features editor

“Inspiring,” “hilarious” and “mundane” are just a few words University students used to describe faculty members on ratemyprofessors.com.

A study published in PLoS ONE on March 3 found that students are about two times more likely to use words such as “brilliant” and “genius” when describing their male professors rather than their female professors.

Professors and graduate students at both the University of Illinois and Princeton University performed the research. Researchers used data from more than 14 million reviews submitted to ratemyprofessors.com and broke down the data to sort professors into categories by field of study.

With the results, researchers came to two conclusions. The first was that a suggested bias exists between the intellectual status of male and female professors. The second conclusion was that the use of intellectual reviews was prevalent in male-­dominated fields such as mathematics and physics.

“In our society, we still have a gender bias such that men more than women are thought to possess these special intellectual traits,” said Andrei Cimpian, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University.

Cimpian was the lead professor who contributed to the research with the help of Daniel Storage, graduate student in LAS.

According to Storage, the results of the study were predicted and they did not surprise him. Despite the expected results, he was shocked the bias was present in every single field tested.

“I think that struck me because it just shows how prevalent the cultural stereotype against women’s intelligence is,” he said.

The results of the study showed that students reviewed both male and female professors equally with non­intellectually descriptive words such as “excellent” and “amazing.” These findings imply that the popularity of the professor remains unaffected by gender bias and intellectual ability is where the bias presents itself.

Storage predicted this bias is most likely rooted in how today’s students were raised. At a young age, boys are more often associated with science ­related topics, such as spaceships, than girls, who are more likely to play with dolls and tiaras. This explicit way of thinking could encourage the stereotype that men are more intelligent than women.

Cimpian and Storage’s research was originally inspired by a study that was published in January of 2014, in The New York Times. This study found that parents are more than twice as likely to google whether their sons are geniuses rather than their daughters. Likewise, they are also three times more likely to ask Google if their daughters are ugly.

“Early on, kids are growing up in an environment where their parents and teachers see one group, boys, as smart, and they don’t associate that trait with the other group, which is girls,” Storage said.

Researchers couldn’t organize the data by the University to study which institutions have a stronger or weaker bias. Storage estimated that if the study were taken from a pool of students enrolled at the University, the results would most likely remain true to the original date.

Although Cimpian believes eliminating the bias will continue to be difficult, he thinks our society is moving in the right direction toward eradicating these cultural stereotypes that say women aren’t equivalent to men.

“The more years we spend in a relatively gender­ equal society, the more women will have an opportunity to show their skills; their intellectual abilities,” Cimpian said. “I think these stereotypes will become a thing of the past.”

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