A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation

Boys’ Brains Better for Math? No!

PITTSBURGH, PA. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—When it comes to STEM jobs in engineering and medicine, there’s a long history of gender performance bias—with many people believing that boys’ math capabilities are better than girls’ because boys’ brains are wired for it.

Counting and calculating…matching shapes and sizes. When it comes to math learning, is one gender predisposed to be better than the other? Jessica Cantlon, PhD, and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University’s Kid Neuro Lab studied 55 girls and 49 boys age 3-9 to determine how their brains processed math. The kids had a functional MRI while they watched educational math videos. The scientists measured which areas, or networks, of their brains responded more strongly to the math content.

The researchers then compared the brain networks associated with math for girls to the networks for boys and found them to be identical.

“So, the brain is implementing this aspect of cognition in the same way for little boys and little girls,” explained Cantlon.

The researchers also assessed kids’ math abilities using a series of tasks in the lab and found no gender differences in performance, either. Cantlon said the findings may help reshape the societal belief that girls aren’t built for math.

“I think some of the bias against engaging girls in mathematics is under the radar for us,” Cantlon told Ivanhoe.

Cantlon recommends parent be aware of the bias that steers young women away from STEM and be careful to avoid it.

Previous research shows parents of boys may gravitate toward play that involves math or spatial skills, like building with Legos or blocks, while parents of girls may not be as enthusiastic about steering them toward math-oriented play.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

(Sources: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41539-019-0057-x, https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2019/november/girls-boys-brains-produce-equal-math-ability.html)

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