A study published in the Advances in Physiology Education journal Wednesday by an all-female group of researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) revealed that men routinely overestimate their grasp of science, regardless of whether their grades were identical to their female counterparts.
The researchers noted that in a discussion-based physiology college class with 244 members, the average male student believes he is more intelligent than 66 percent of the class members. A female student with the same average GPA, however, is likely to believe that she is more intelligent than 54 percent of the class. In addition, the study showed that a male student is 3.2 times more likely than a female student to believe that he is smarter than his or her partner, when working in pairs, according to the New York Times.
The students' academic "self-concept" in the classroom was measured through a survey asking students to determine what percentage of the class they believed they were smarter than in physiology. They also reported if they were more or less intelligent than the person they teamed up with most frequently to do classwork with.
According to Sara Brownell, assistant professor of life sciences at ASU and author of the study, "females are not participating as much in science class" because of lower "self-concepts" than males.
"They are not raising their hands and answering questions," she added.
"Why does academic self-concept matter?" the authors asked in the study.
"We found that students with higher academic self-concept are more likely to report participating more in small-group discussions; this could have implications for student learning, because studies have shown that greater participation can lead to greater learning," they wrote.
However, there are several limitations to the study. According to the authors, "reporting on how smart one feels compared with another person may cause students to answer the question in a socially desirable way," cited by Nytimes.com.
In other words, students may rate themselves as less smart than their class partners because that is more humble and socially acceptable. In addition, the research was only conducted in one class at one institution, which means that different results could be obtained in other classroom settings.
"Future studies may want to explore the extent to which academic self-concept is malleable and to what extent instructor behavior or course structure could influence it," the authors noted.