Girls Start Out with the Same Math Abilities as Boys: Study
Mon, April 19, 2021

Girls Start Out with the Same Math Abilities as Boys: Study

Girls and boys have the same math abilities as a child and that there is “no gender difference” in their math skills or brain function in that area. / Photo by: Nadezhda Prokudina via 123rf

 

A new study that appeared in the journal Science of Learning debunked the belief that women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries because their gender affects their math abilities. 

Researchers claimed that girls and boys have the same math abilities as a child and that there is “no gender difference” in their math skills or brain function in that area. Carnegie Mellon University's professor of developmental neuroscience and author of the study Jessica Cantlon said that the brain activity of girls and boys are “indistinguishable.”

Comparing the Brain Scans of the Study Subjects

Cantlon and the team conducted a study on 104 (55 girls) children who were 3 to 10 years old. They used a functional MRI to determine the brain activity of the subjects while they were watching an educational video of math topics, such as addition and counting. The group then compared the brain scans of the study subjects and it showed no difference in their brain development. There was likewise no difference in how girls and boys processed math skills and both were equally engaged while they were viewing the educational videos.

To understand brain maturity, Cantlon and the group also compared the brain scans of children to a group of adults who viewed the same math videos. Out of the 63 adults who were a part of the second group, 25 of them were women. After various statistical comparisons, the researchers concluded that brain maturity was equivalent when they compared it to either women or men who were a part of the adult group.

University of Chicago Department of Psychology’s postdoctoral scholar and first author of the study Alyssa Kersey said that it is not only the girls and boys who are utilizing the math network in their brain in similar ways. Such similarities are also evident in their entire brain. This is a significant reminder of how people are born more similar to other individuals than being different.

The researchers also compared their study results to a standardized test called Test of Early Mathematics Ability for children 3 to 8 years old. The test involved 97 participants, 50 of whom were girls to know the math milestones. They found that math skills are the same among kids and there is no difference with age or in their gender. 

 

The researchers used used a functional MRI to determine the brain activity of the subjects while they were watching an educational video of math topics. / Photo by: Andrey Malov via 123rf

 

What Steers Young Women Away From STEM Fields

Cantlon opined that it is probably the culture or society that steers young women and girls away from STEM fields or math,= in general. Medical research platform Medical Xpress also cited previous studies that emphasized how families are spending more time with boys in games or play involving spatial cognition, which has a connection in mathematical thinking. One correlation is between the representations of spatial and numerical magnitudes. 

Many teachers also spend more time with young boys during math class and it helps predict their achievement in that subject. Lastly, kids usually pick up on the cues that their parents expect from them, such as boys being expected to have good math abilities.

Cantlon continued that that typical socialization is exacerbating the “small differences” between girls and boys. Later on, though, it can snowball into how the subject of math and science is being considered by people and it can lead to gender inequities.

Last September, another study from the Erasmus University Rotterdam concluded that girls can even score better in math and science tests than boys if exams were made longer. Such an approach, the authors believed, can help reduce the gender gap in STEM subjects.

Specialized agency United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) data showed that there are fewer female than male STEM graduates in 107 economies compared. Among the top countries with high share of female STEM graduates are: Sint Maarten (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) (75 percent), Tunisia (58 percent), Algeria (55 percent), Benin (55 percent), Oman (53 percent), Brunei Darussalam (52 percent), Syrian Arab Republic (50 percent), Albania (49 percent), Panama (49 percent), and Sudan (47 percent). 

On the other hand, the counties with the lowest share of female STEM graduates are the United Arab Emirates, Georgia, India, Poland, Bahrain, and Uruguay. “This disparity in professional choices reflects a missed opportunity,” the international financial institution World Bank commented.

In the ASEAN, Malaysia has a 39 percent share of female STEM graduates, Indonesia and Vietnam with 37 percent, Thailand 30 percent, and Singapore 34 percent. For every 10 STEM graduates in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Burundi, South Korea, and Chile, one less than two are girls, reported Business Mirror, a daily business newspaper in the Philippines.

Math and Brain Muscles

Tohuku University’s professor Ryuta Kawashima previously shared in a conference at Warwick University that math builds a person’s brain muscles, both in right and left hemispheres of the frontal lobe. His findings challenged the knowledge that the right hemisphere is meant for creative thinking. The Japanese professor’s findings were also published by The Guardian, a British daily newspaper founded in 1821.