Photo/Illutration Kyoto University (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

KYOTO--Children develop stereotypical gender images early in life, new research in Japan suggests.

A team headed by Yusuke Moriguchi, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Kyoto University’s graduate school, found that youngsters are apt to deem men and women as smarter and nicer, respectively.

These stereotypes might be one of the factors behind Japan’s miserable standing against other nations in gender equality. Japan ranks 116th among all 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index.

With this in mind, Moriguchi decided to scrutinize when fixed images are formed.

Taking into account the findings of a past study that show children in the United States start thinking men are smarter when they turn 6 or so, the researchers asked children exclusively about niceness and smartness to see whether they have biased views on different genders.

In the experiment, 565 children nationwide ranging in age from 4 to 7 were told stories about “smart” and “nice” people.

The kids then got to select pictographs representing men and women to decide which sex they thought the protagonists belonged to.

When it came to niceness, more girls than boys chose their same-sex pictograph in all age groups. That indicates female children may already have formed a mental picture that women are nicer from around the age of 4.

With regard to smartness, no significant differences were reported among those aged 4 to 6 in the ratio of children picking out their same-gender pictographs.

However, a far higher percentage of 7-year-old boys than girls of the same age preferred their same-gender pictograph. Older girls selected the woman pictograph less frequently, suggesting children begin thinking men are smarter from around the time they turn 7.

No correlation was detected among all the choices made by children and their guardians’ answers to questions in the experiment.

Moriguchi described the outcome as unexpected, noting that the stereotype about smartness is built among children later than the United States, where the gender gap is smaller than Japan.

“What elements contributed to the result is unclear,” Moriguchi said. “They (gender stereotypes) may stem from the beginning of schooling, peer pressure among friends and a lack of role models in Japan.”

The researchers will now try to ascertain whether stereotypical images formed during childhood affect future choices in education and careers, such as fewer girls wanting to study natural sciences.

The team’s findings were published in the online edition of the international scientific journal Scientific Reports at (