Girls are Bad at Math. How Studies with this Conclusion May be Methodologically Flawed.

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Intelligence-based differences in gender has always been a much debated and speculated topic in psychology. A particularly popular theory that has emerged based on modern research is the idea that different genders have different intellectual differences in specific area. Our textbook specifically sites two important studies on this subject: Benbow & Stanley 1980 and 1983.

Both these studies used the MSAT mathematics ability test to collect data about the intellectual ability of both genders in this area. However, while both publications seem to settle on the theory that males are inherent stronger in mathematical reasoning ability, there seems to be a large room for error and alternative hypotheses in the studies.

First, one of the most significant factors that could affect results is the amount of interest that individuals have in mathematics. Neither study makes an attempt to control for how much involvement subjects had with mathematics. While the researcher argues that the age range they took samples from generally had the same mathematical coursework, most higher-level math thinking comes voluntary participation in math competitions or outside-of-class interest in math. This implies that the disparity in test-taking ability in math could have instead come from environmental differences that come inherently with a different gender that causes a disparity in interest in mathematics.

Second, another problem with the study is that it took samples only from the subjects of a talent search, taking subjects who fit into the criteria. However, even if the data was reflective of mathematical ability of this specific population, it still doesn't reflect the general population of all males and females. In fact, referencing previous studies on the IQ level of men and women, men have been showing to have a wider distribution than women. This leads to higher IQ ratings on average towards the higher range, and the same such disparity in the talent search could just be an extension of IQ statistics rather than insight on the physiological differences in math ability. In fact, specific data from the experiment supports this criticism, as the research sited a higher variance in boys' test scores compared to girls.

In addition, brochures were handed out prior to the study specifically stated that boys had performed better in the past, possibly causing a skew in the data. This was also a volunteer-based study, creating potential participation bias. In fact, recent data on this same subject has showed great improvement in female statistics.

In order to make definitive claims on this subject, more research needs to be done to account for the multiple extraneous factors that exist in this area.


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I don't have the stats to back me up, but I have some friends that are in CSE and they always comment on how the number of females in the college are pretty much nonexistent. I wonder if it is because more guys are interested in engineering or if they are better at it or something completely different but it intrigues me.

I am a female and am in love with math, and I have been since I can remember. I feel you have to like math in order to be good at it. It has to spark your interest and seem relevant in order to understand complex subjects. I know a lot of my friends hate the concept of math, and they don't do very well in the classes. But some of my friends from my AP Calculus math class in high school (obviously does well in math), shows some real enjoyment and gains great satisfaction from math. I am curious as to why there are hardly an girls in CSE, it is a challenging course loud but I feel that most women these days would be up to the challenge. Maybe, if we give it a few more years women will start to enjoy engineering more and more.

Your blog title immediately stood out to me because I always struggled with math while my brother excelled at it. I guess I always grew up thinking that my brain just didn't work in a mathematical way, but it also crossed my mind often that I wasn't good at math because I am female. I think the potential participation bias is a definite problem with the study because if girls think that they won't do well because a brochure says so, that will negatively impact their attitude while taking the MSAT.
I think interest in math will definitely help someone succeed in it, but if they find that they're not doing well in math, that doesn't usually encourage them to try to like it more or actively look for more ways to participate in math-related activities.

One thing that always bothers me is the claim that men and women are mentally the same. With such drastic differences in genetic expression, the claim that our minds must work exactly the same way is totally bogus! While gender roles certainly play a dominant role in our differences, there will always be that small genetic component that separates us.

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This page contains a single entry by zhuxx523 published on April 8, 2012 1:57 AM.

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