At Boys too self-confident, study finds

by By Miguel Llanos

Boys will be boys, the saying goes, and a new study suggests that’s particularly true in that they tend to overestimate their school performance. Girls, on the other hand, tend to underestimate their own skills, the study by psychologists at the University of Notre Dame found.p. The three-year study of 800 third- and sixth-graders found the gap begins around the fourth grade and increases with each grade level. By seventh grade, gender differences in depression and anxiety are significant, with symptoms of those appearing among the underestimators, chiefly girls.p. The study found that boys are more likely to attribute their failures to bad luck, the difficulty of a task or not trying hard enough – but not to a perception of low self-esteem. The researchers noted that these types of attributions have been associated with resistance to depression.p. Girls, on the other hand, may be more likely to attribute their failures to a perception of low ability. And this type of attribution, the researchers said, has been related to depression in both children and adults.p. The study did find one area where gender didn’t make a difference. Boys and girls with similar levels of depression and anxiety also have the same tendency to underestimate their school performance.p. David Cole, the lead researcher, says that perception appears to be “more a consequence of depression rather than a cause or precipitating factor of depression.”p. Girls with depression outnumber boys by about 2:1, he adds. But what’s not known is what causes the depression. “That’s the million dollar question,” Cole says, adding that biology, genetic predisposition, trauma and stress are among possible factors.p. Other studies show that parents, teachers and even friends interact with girls differently than with boys, often expecting less of girls. “It could be girls are picking up on that and having lower expectations of themselves,” Cole says.p. “There’s something about how we socialize our girls,” he adds, where the message we give them is it’s “not good to be regarded as too smart.”p. On top of that, he notes, it’s during these grade school years that children are building a sense of what they’re good at.p. Cole’s advice to parents and educators is to “maintain high expectations for women … We do them a disservice by expecting less of them.”p. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development, was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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