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The Influence Of Gender On Perceptions Of Intelligence

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Past research has found that males estimate their own intelligence higher than females, and that in general, individuals estimate their father’s intelligence to be higher than their mothers. This study aimed to examine these gender differences in the perception of intelligence through a methodologically similar survey to Hogan’s (1978) study on IQ estimations, and found that females consistently estimate their IQ lower than males, and both males and females estimate their mother’s IQ lower than their father. This could be explained through the idea of gender-role stereotyping, perhaps indicating that despite societal progression towards gender equality, gender-role socialisation is still very much present in modern day society.

Perceptions of Intelligence

Traditional gender-roles stereotype males as intelligent, masculine breadwinners while this is not expected of females, who are labelled as intellectually inferior, and are expected to prioritise caring for their home and children over developing their intellect. The Cambridge Dictionary defines intelligence as ‘the ability to learn, understand, and make judgements or have opinions that are based on reason’. ‘Self-concept’ refers to an individual’s beliefs about themselves, including their attributes and ideas of who and what they are (Baumeister, 1999), and self-perception of intelligence is a key aspect of self-concept, in addition to how this compares to our perception of others’ intelligence.

Intelligence can be measured objectively using intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, a standardised measure that is used around the world. The UK national average IQ score is 100, with scores of 120 and above being classed as superior, and scores of 79 and below being classed as borderline. Gender-role stereotyping labelling men as intelligent may influence individuals’ self-concept of intelligence and their IQ levels, and much of past research seems to suggest that this is the case.

Torrance (1963) found that both males and females expected schoolboys to perform better on a science test, despite the schoolgirls performing just as well. This suggests that gender-role stereotypes impact perceptions of intelligence, regardless of evidence of actual intellectual ability.

This proposal is further supported by Petrides, Furnham and Martin (2004), who studied estimates for both Emotional and Psychometric Intelligence. These researchers found that men gave higher IQ estimates but lower EI (emotional intelligence) estimates than women, and, regardless of gender, all participants rated their fathers as higher on the IQ scale but lower on the EI scale as their mothers. This furthers the idea that gender stereotypes significantly impact our perceptions of intelligence.

In addition to this, Kelly and Smail (1986) found that boys were significantly more sex stereotyped than females, and, for both sexes a feminine self-image was linked to low academic achievement. This suggests that gender has a significant impact on academic achievement due to gender stereotyping, as boys stereotyped as masculine and therefore intelligent exceeded more academically than those stereotyped as feminine.

This study is a partial replication of Hogan’s 1978 study which found that men give higher estimates of their own IQ than women, while both genders estimate their father’s IQ as higher, but their mother’s IQ as lower, than their own.

Previous research, especially Hogan (1978) seems to indicate that gender has a significant impact on perceptions of intelligence, however, it could be argued that these findings are outdated in today’s progressive society, therefore the rationale for this study is to see if these perceptions still exist in modern day, where gender-role stereotyping is seemingly non-apparent.

The aim of this study is to see if gender has a significant impact on the perception of intelligence, both between-subjects, measuring differences in the estimation of participants own IQ between males and females, and within-subjects, measuring any difference in participants’ estimation of their own IQ, their mother’s IQ, and their father’s IQ.

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As a result of past research findings, in particular that of Petrides, Furnham and Martin (2004), I hypothesise the following: Hypothesis 1: males will estimate their own IQs higher than females; Hypothesis 2: participants will estimate their father’s IQ higher than their mother’s IQ; Hypothesis 3: participants will estimate their father’s IQ higher than their own IQ; Hypothesis 4: participants will estimate their mother’s IQ lower than their own IQ.


A mixed design was used. Within-subject design was used to measure individual’s perception of their parents’ intelligence while between-subject design was used to measure gender differences in participants’ self-perceptions of intelligence. The independent variable for within-subjects analysis was the participant’s IQ perception for different individuals, while the dependent variable was their IQ estimate. The independent design for between-subject analysis was gender, while the dependent variable was again IQ estimate. The study was conducted in an interview format, with fixed responses.


Participants were first told that the national average IQ score is 100, before being asked individually to estimate both their own IQ, their mother’s IQ, and their father’s IQ. Their responses to these three questions were recorded into a spreadsheet (see appendix C), along with each participant’s age and gender.


This study found that males estimated their own IQ significantly higher than females, supporting hypothesis 1. It also found that individuals estimated their father’s IQ higher than their mother’s IQ, supporting hypothesis 2. However, the study found that participants did not estimate their father’s IQ higher than their own IQ, therefore hypothesis 3 must be rejected. Finally, the study found that participants did estimate their mother’s IQ lower than their own IQ, supporting hypothesis 3. These findings suggest that gender plays an important role in how we perceive our own intelligence, and the intelligence of others. However, it should be noted that two outliers were removed from the dataset, therefore this may affect reliability of findings.

These findings support past research, for example Reilly and Mulhern (1995) found that males self-estimates of IQ were significantly higher on average than females. In addition to this, it was found that the IQ estimates for males were typically higher than their measured IQs, while females estimates were typically lower than their actual IQ. This supports hypothesis 1, and indicates that gender role stereotyping can have a significant impact on our self-concepts of intelligence.

One weakness of this study is that many extraneous variables were not controlled for and therefore may have affected findings. For example, factors such as each participant’s level of education and the level of education of their parents would have affected findings significantly, as participants used this in order to aid their estimations. Many participants stated that their father attended university while their mother didn’t, causing them to give a higher estimate for their father based solely on this factor. Although the reason for only their father attending university could have been an effect of gender-role socialisation from a young age, this still seemed to impact findings, therefore if this study was repeated, level of education of participants’ and their parents should be controlled in order to minimise the effect this could have on finding.

Another weakness of this study is the particularly small participant age range of 18-33, making the sample size small and perhaps unrepresentative of the wider population. This suggests that findings may have been different if a more comprehensive sample was used, as traditional gender roles would be more typical for older participants, which may have made findings more significant. However, due to the consistencies in past gender-IQ research, it can be accepted with some certainty that these findings are representative of the wider population.

It would be interesting in further research to assess gender differences in different types of intelligence, using measures other than the standard IQ testing. For example, Furnham and Buchanan (2005) found that women generally provide lower estimates for general, mathematical, and spatial ability, but higher estimates of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence than men. This would suggest that the general term of ‘intelligence’ is too broad, therefore particular aspects of intelligence should be measured in order to gain more detailed and comprehensive results.

In conclusion, the findings of this study suggest that gender has a significant impact on perceptions of intelligence, both with self-concepts, and in estimating the intelligence of others. The main explanation for this difference in perceptions is due to gender-role stereotyping, in which intelligence is portrayed as a masculine trait, and women are seen as intellectually inferior. Although gender-role stereotyping appears to be scarce in modern day society, particularly following the feminist movement and the commonplace of female empowerment, it seems that these stereotypes are still very prevalent, especially in self-perceptions of intelligence.


  1. Baumeister, R. F. (1999). Self-concept, self-esteem, and identity. In V. J. Derlega, B. A. Winstead, & W. H. Jones (Eds.), Nelson-Hall series in psychology. Personality: Contemporary theory and research (pp. 339-375). Chicago, IL, US: Nelson-Hall Publishers.
  2. Baumeister, R. F. (Ed.) (1999). The self in social psychology. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis).
  3. Furnham, A. and Buchanan, T. 2005. Personality, gender and self-perceived intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences. 39 (3),
  4. Hogan, H. W. (1978). I.Q. Self-estimates of males and females. Journal of Social Psychology, 106
  5. Intelligence [def. 1]. (n.d). In Cambridge Dictionary Online, Retrieved April, 20, 2019, from
  6. Kelly, A., & Smail, B. (1986). Sex stereotypes and attitudes to science among eleven‐year‐old children. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 56(2)
  7. Petrides, K. V., Furnham, A., & Martin, G. N. (2004). Estimates of emotional and psychometric intelligence: Evidence for gender-based stereotypes. The Journal of social psychology, 144(2)
  8. Reilly, J., & Mulhern, G. (1995). Gender differences in self-estimated IQ: The need for care in interpreting group data. Personality and individual Differences, 18(2)
  9. Torrance, E. P. (1963). Changing reactions of pre-adolescent girls to tasks requiring creative scientific thinking. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 102

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