Are men really better than women at maths?

New York, June 24 (IANS) Since more men pursue careers in science and engineering, does that mean they are actually better at maths than women are? No, says a study.

On the contrary, men are not actually as good at maths as they assume. They only “think” they are much better at maths than they really are, the research found.

On the other hand, women tend to accurately estimate their arithmetic prowess, said lead researcher Shane Bench from Washington State University.

There is a sizeable gap between the number of men and women who choose to study and follow careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the US.

This is true even though women outperform their male counterparts in mathematical tests in elementary school.

Bench’s study examined how people’s biases and previous experiences about their mathematical abilities make them more or less likely to consider pursuing math-related courses and careers.

Two studies were conducted, one using 122 undergraduate students and the other 184 participants. Each group first completed a maths test before guessing how well they had fared at providing the right answers.

In the first study, participants received feedback about their real test scores before they were again asked to take a test and predict their scores.

In the second study, participants only wrote one test without receiving any feedback. They were, however, asked to report on their intent to pursue maths-related courses and careers.

Across the two studies it was found that men overestimated the number of problems they solved, while women quite accurately reported how well they fared.

After the participants in Study (1) received feedback about their real test scores, the men were more accurate at estimating how well they had done on the second test.

The results of Study (2) showed that because the male participants believed they had a greater knack for maths than was the case, they were more likely to pursue maths courses and careers than women.

“Gender gaps in the STEM fields are not necessarily the result of women’s underestimating their abilities but rather may be due to men’s overestimating their abilities,” Bench said.

His team also found that women who had more positive past experiences with mathematics tended to rate their numerical abilities higher than they really were.

This highlights the value of positively reinforcing a woman’s knack for mathematics especially at a young age.

“Positive illusions about maths abilities may be beneficial to women pursuing math courses and careers.”

“Such positive illusions could function to protect women’s self-esteem despite lower-than-desired performance, leading women to continue to pursue courses in STEM fields and ultimately improve their skills.”

The study was published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.


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