We're not exactly sure when or where the notion that boys are better at math than girls came from, we just know that its something that many people have come to believe to be true. Past studies have done very little to refute these claims because they've mostly only compared test scores between the two sexes and made assumptions based on that and the fact that there are fewer women employed in math-related careers than men.
A new study published in the journal Science of Learning took a more scientific approach to this widely held belief and was able to refute it. The study was led by Jessica Cantlon of Carnegie Mellon and involved 104 kids in total. 55 of the kids were female and the other 49 were male, ages 3 to 10 years old. The children were shown an educational video about math and an MRI was used to measure their brain activity while watching the video.
After watching the video, the scans were compared and it was found that regardless of gender, the children used the same mechanisms and networks in the brain to help them figure out the math problems. The researchers also used another standardized test called the Test of Early Mathematics Ability to take a look at the rate of math development in 97 children, aged 3 to 8.
About half of the subjects in this study were girls and the math ability was found to be roughly the same with all of the children and didn't show any major age or gender-based differences.
The big question that comes to mind when evaluating a study like this is how much socialization has played a role in lower math scores among girls than boys and a lower level of employment in math-related careers for women than men. If girls believe that they're not as good as boys at math, does it cause them to care less about the subject while in school?
If women have been conditioned to believe that they aren't as good at math as men, does that influence them to steer away from these types of careers? There are also other social influences that may exist in the home and at school because of these stereotypes that cause parents and educators to recommend this course of study or career path more to boys than girls.
It is hoped that this study will shed some light on these issues which will eventually close the gap between male and female employees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related careers.