29 July 2012

Why Do Males Continue to be Superior at Math?

Despite shoddy pseudo-scholarly attempts by feminist ideologues to disprove the obvious statistical sex differences in math reasoning and advanced math ability, males continue to be over-represented in fields requiring advanced mathematical abilities.
Proportion Female in Various Fields _HBD Chick _via_ Complexity Simplified

So, why are males superior at math? Let's be more specific, since the reality is a bit mixed:
In late elementary school, females outperform males on several verbal skills tasks: verbal reasoning, verbal fluency, comprehension, and understanding logical relations (Hedges & Nowell, 1995). Males, on the other hand, outperform females on spatial skills tasks such as mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization (Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). Males also perform better on mathematical achievement tests than females. However, gender differences do not apply to all aspects of mathematical skill. Males and females do equally well in basic math knowledge, and girls actually have better computational [arithmetic _ ed.] skills. Performance in mathematical reasoning and geometry shows the greatest difference (Fennema, Sowder, & Carpenter, 1999). _Education

In fact, recent research shows that males begin to take a qualitatively different approach to math thinking from an early age:
In a University of Missouri study, girls and boys started grade school with different approaches to solving arithmetic problems, with girls favoring a slow and accurate approach and boys a faster but more error prone approach. Girls’ approach gave them an early advantage, but by the end of sixth grade boys had surpassed the girls....

“Developing mathematical skill may be part ‘practice makes perfect’ and part ‘perfect makes practice,’” Bailey said. “Attempting more answers from memory gives risk-takers more practice, which may eventually lead to improvements in accuracy. It also is possible that children who are skilled at certain strategies are more likely to use them and therefore acquire more practice.” _MU News

The greater boldness exhibited by boys in math class is likely a testosterone effect, which is exhibited in so many other behavioural differences between males and females in childhood, adolescence, and early to middle adulthood.

The male superiority in spacial skills tasks and advanced math reasoning is likely to derive from far more subtle changes in the brain than those that lead to greater male boldness. But those more subtle changes are also largely due to testosterone effect.

These brain changes occur over time -- slowly in childhood, and at a faster rate in adolescence. All levels of brain activity -- from gene expression to physiological parameters to brain structure to cognitive function -- are involved.

Recent feminist-inspired studies which compare male : female math skills in childhood or very early in adolescence are unable to detect the most significant brain transformations, and are thus likely to fail to detect very real differences. Likewise, studies which focus upon comparisons of basic arithmetic skills, fail to detect the male advantages in spatial skills and in advanced mathematical reasoning.

Fortunately, better tools for detecting brain activity and differences at all levels -- from gene expression to fine brain structure to the neurological correlates of cognition -- are all in development.

A fascinating new brain imager which combines MEG (magnetoencephalography) with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) will allow an unprecedented degree of simultaneous spatial and temporal imaging of brain structure and activity.

Functional brain imaging has already developed to the point where it can be used as an objective, culture-free test for cognitive function and speed. It is only a matter of time before such crude objective measures of cognition can be fine-tuned to look at distinct types of cognition, including mathematical and spatial reasoning.

When it comes to brain, cognition, and behaviour, hormones have consequences. The sooner human academics can grow beyond their political correctness to look at these issues objectively and honestly, the sooner we can find ways for all of us to move ahead.

More from La Griffe du Lion

More on math sex gap at secondary level (PDF)

Lubos Motl provides colour commentary on the La Griffe du Lion article linked above, paying particular attention to cross-cultural views of the math sex gap.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Well I must be a minority or something because I can't do math to save my life. Just don't have the genes or brain wiring for it.

Sunday, 29 July, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

WW22: The male female math sex gap is a population statistical phenomenon, not applicable to every single possible male female pairing.

The statistical male superiority in math reasoning and spatial skills is most pronounced at the upper ends of the skills distributions.

The fact that most women are more interested in people than in abstract theoretical concepts or complex machines, also helps to keep males over-represented in the technical, scientific, and mathematical professions, occupations, vocations, and avocations.

Obama has promised his feminist supporters that he will use the power of government to enforce gender quotas in US math, science, and engineering admissions and hiring. Nothing could destroy US science and technology more quickly than such a ham handed government intrusion into such areas that should be free of government interference.

Sunday, 29 July, 2012  

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