Image courtesy: Unsplash/Yannis H

There is no difference in the way children learn about and perform in math, according to a new study in the journal Science of Learning.

“Science doesn’t align with folk beliefs,” said Jessica Cantlon, the Ronald J. and Mary Ann Zdrojkowski Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and senior author on the paper.

“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.”

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Cantlon and her colleagues used neuroimaging to look for gender differences in math aptitude in children between 3 and 10 years of age. In total, 104 children — 55 of whom were girls — participated.

Jessica Cantlon and a child working on a math game.
CREDIT: Carnegie Mellon University

Children were asked to watch a video about early math topics. The team compared their brain scans to one another as well as against scans taken of adults who watched the same video.

The team found no differences in brain development among boys and girls. Researchers also did not find any difference in the way boys and girls process math.

“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,” said Alyssa Kersey, a postdoctoral scholar at the Department of Psychology, University of Chicago and first author on the paper.

 “This is an important reminder that humans are more similar to each other than we are different.”

Gender socilaization

The findings align with previous research showing that boys and girls are equally equipped to succeed in math studies. Still, math industries remain dominated by men and fewer women study maths at the post-secondary level.

In July, a paper was published in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America that sought to explain the gender gap.

Researchers analyzed data on 300,000 students aged 15 years from 64 countries. While students of all genders demonstrated proficiencies in math and reading, females who were good at math appeared to be “much more likely” to be better at reading than their male counterparts.

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The study suggests girls may be socialized to think math and literature are mutually exclusive and they must choose one over the other, despite being qualified to study both.

Because some female students see a “competitive advantage” over males in reading, they may be more likely to deviate from math.

The authors of the paper believe that girls’ comparative verbal advantage, when measured against the difference in their reading and math scores, could “explain up to 80% of the gender gap in intentions to pursue math-studies and careers.”

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