Black and brilliant? A female genius? Not according to RateMyProfessors, study finds

March 3, 2016

An analysis of more than 14 million reviews on RateMyProfessors.com, where students write anonymous reviews of their professors, found that students most often use the words "brilliant" and "genius" to describe male professors and in academic disciplines in which women and African-Americans are underrepresented.

The findings, reported in the journal PLOS ONE, included academic disciplines in the sciences, humanities, social sciences and math.

"Male professors were described more often as 'brilliant' and 'genius' than female professors in every single field we studied—about two to three times more often," said University of Illinois graduate student Daniel Storage, who led the study with U. of I. psychology professor Andrei Cimpian. Princeton University philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie and U. of I. graduate student Zachary Horne also contributed to the research.

Students also used "brilliant" and "genius" to describe their professors most often in academic fields such as philosophy and physics, in which women and African-American students are a distinct minority, Storage said.

The new findings mirror those of a 2015 study led by Cimpian and Leslie and published in Science. In that study, the researchers asked graduate students, researchers and faculty members to name the qualities that were most conducive to success in their fields. The 2015 analysis found that survey participants who emphasized brilliance or genius as a precursor to success were more likely to belong to academic disciplines where women and African-Americans were underrepresented.

The new analysis reinforces the previous one and offers new insights into students' attitudes and thoughts, the researchers said.

"What's valuable about spontaneous comments is that they provide an unvarnished reflection of how people evaluate others in their field, and what they look for in other people in that field," Cimpian said.

In the 2015 study, the researchers tested several alternative hypotheses to explain why some disciplines have so few practitioners who are female or African-American. But none of the hypotheses could explain the phenomenon as well as the belief that brilliance or genius was necessary for success in those fields, Cimpian said.

The new study also found that none of the following four factors could fully explain the underrepresentation of women or African-Americans in a field: average GRE (graduate school entry exam) math scores, the desire to avoid long hours at work, the selectivity of each field or the ability to think systematically. While there are correlations between some of these factors and the presence or absence of women and African-Americans in some fields, "we consistently found that the only thing that was explaining the proportions of women and African-Americans in a particular field was that field's emphasis on the importance of brilliance and ," Storage said.

"Both of these groups are stereotyped in a similar way about their intellectual abilities and therefore are potentially affected in a similar way by the amount of emphasis that's put on brilliance," Cimpian said. "The people in certain fields might not see that quality in women and African-Americans. Women and African-Americans themselves may be conditioned to not see these qualities in themselves."

Explore further: Female students just as successful as males in math and science, Asian Americans outperform all

Related Stories

Grit better than GRE at predicting success in STEM fields

June 12, 2014

Selecting graduate students in the fields of science and engineering based on an assessment of their character instead of relying almost entirely on their scores on a standardized test would significantly improve the quality ...

Study supports new explanation of gender gaps in academia

January 15, 2015

It isn't that women don't want to work long hours or can't compete in highly selective fields, and it isn't that they are less analytical than men, researchers report in a study of gender gaps in academia. It appears instead ...

Recommended for you

Paleontologists discover major T. rex fossil (Update)

August 18, 2016

Paleontologists with the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the University of Washington have discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a very complete skull. The find, which paleontologists estimate to be about ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ogg_ogg
4 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2016
If the reviews are anonymous, then it follows that the "race" or gender of the student wasn't captured (or so I assume). How much of this supposed "effect" is simply the "he's like me" trope?
Also, last I heard, one of the differences between male IQ distribution and female is that the male distribution has longer tails (more likely for a male to have a very low IQ than a female AND more likely for a male to have a much higher IQ than a female). Although I have some reservations about the accuracy of this (quite old) finding, if it is accurate then it is true that there are more male geniuses than female. If.
Squirrel
not rated yet Mar 04, 2016
Cimpian and Leslie's earlier paper in Science was found to be flawed with the effect being due to a field's mathematical content. It is likely here that what is being picked up by "Brilliant" and "Genius" links to the degree of maths in the course or the subject field.
See Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn Comment on "Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines" Science 24 Jul 2015: Vol. 349, Issue 6246, pp. 391 http://science.sc...46/391.2

The new paper (open access) "The Frequency of "Brilliant" and "Genius" in Teaching Evaluations Predicts the Representation of Women and African Americans across Fields" can be found here http://journals.p....0150194

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.