In 1992, Teen Talk Barbie was released with the controversial voice fragment, “Math class is hard.” While the this met with public backlash, the underlying assumption persists
But is this assumption accurate? A team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University decided to conduct a study to find out. Led by Jessica Cantlon, the researchers shone a spotlight on how young boys’ and girls’ brains develop. The results have just been published in the journal, Science of Learning, and they indicate that there is: “no gender difference in brain function or math ability” .
Science doesn’t align with folk beliefs. We see that children’s brains function similarly, regardless of their gender, so hopefully we can recalibrate expectations of what children can achieve in mathematics”.
In a world first, Cantlonet al., carried out a pioneering neuroimaging study in order to analyze 104 young children’s (age 3 to 10; 55 girls, 49 boys) biological gender variations in their aptitude for math. Functional MRI was employed to measure the activity of their brains, while they were watching an educational video covering simple math subjects such as addition and counting.
Scans from both sexes were evaluated for brain similarity. Further, the researchers analyzed the degree of maturity of their brains by making a comparison of their scans, to scans taken from 88 adults (63 men and 25 women) who looked at the same videos. After conducting a large number of statistical comparisons, the researchers: “found no difference in the brain development of girls and boys. In addition, the researchers found no deviation in how boys and girls processed math skills and were equally engaged while watching the educational videos” . Moreover, when likened to either women or men within the adult group, the brain maturity of girls and boys, was statistically equivalent.
The study’s first author, postdoctoral scholar at the Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Alyssa Kersey, remarked: “It’s not just that boys and girls are using the math network in the same ways, but that similarities were evident across the entire brain. This is an important reminder that humans are more similar to each other than we are different”.
In addition to the above, the scientists also made a comparison of the results of a standardized test for children aged 3 to 8. This results of this Test of Early Mathematics Ability, which was undertaken 47 boys and 50 girls, was used to ascertain the average pace of math development. The results showed that: “math ability was equivalent among the children and did not show a difference in gender or with age. Nor did the team find a gender difference between math ability and brain maturity” .
While this first of its kind, relatively small study, has clear findings, further research by other universities across the world needs to be done. This research study lead, Jessica Cantlon, announced that she and her team plan to continue with this line of research, so that will prove interesting…
. Carnegie Mellon University. “Study Finds Brains of Girls and Boys Are Similar, Producing Equal Math Ability.”