Girls’ and Boys’ Brains Function Similarly While Doing Maths, Confirms Study


Nov 27, 2019


Image Credit: Quartz

It is time to formally bury the myth that girls are bad at maths.

A new study found no gender difference in the way boys’ and girls’ brains function when it comes to their aptitude for maths.

Led by Jessica Cantlon, a professor of developmental neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, the study, published in the journal Science of Learning, is the first of its kind to evaluate biological differences in girls’ and boys’ math ability through brain imaging.

Her team used functional MRI to scan the brain activity of 104 children between ages 3 and 10, of which 55 were girls. Their brains were assessed when they watched educational videos on math topics, such as addition and subtraction. Then boys’ brain scans were compared with girls’ for assessing the similarity in responses in the brain as well as their level of maturity of the nervous system.

After a set of comparisons, Cantlon and the team found no difference in the brain development of girls and boys nor in the way they processed math skills. The researchers also found that the brains of both the genders were equally engaged as they watched the videos.

“Science doesn’t align with folk beliefs,” said Cantlon in a press release. “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,” she added.

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The study also went on to compare the results of the Test of Early Mathematics Ability — a standardized test for 3- to 8-year-olds to assess the development of math skills from a set of 97 participants, including 50 girls. They found that math ability did not differ among the two genders.

The findings of the study come at an important time, as society still pushes boys to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM subjects, attributing their capability to biological differences. This finding proves otherwise and could go a long way in ensuring that girls and women not only enter the field of STEM but are also encouraged to stay in it if educators and parents put aside the long-standing prejudice.

“Typical socialization can exacerbate small differences between boys and girls that can snowball into how we treat them in science and math,” Cantlon said. “We need to be cognizant of these origins to ensure we aren’t the ones causing the gender inequities.”


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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