Girls and Boys Are Equally Good at Math, and Children's Brains Function Similarly Regardless of Gender: Scientific Study

Scientists have debunked the idea that women are underrepresented in the technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries because of biological differences which affect their math skills.

Girls and boys have similar brains and are equally able when it comes to understanding math, according to the study published in the journal NPJ Science of Learning.

The research involved 104 children aged between 3 to 10 years old, 55 of whom were girls. The kids watched an educational video featuring maths concepts such as counting and addition, while the scientists charted their brain activity using an MRI scanner. The team then compared all the scan results.

So the researchers could compare the brain activity of the children to adults, the team asked 38 men and 25 women to watch the same videos in the scanner.

According to the data, there was no difference between the children's brain functions or development. And the boys and girls appeared to be equally tuned into the videos.

The team also looked at the results of a maths ability test taken by 97 children aged between 3 and 8 years old, 50 of whom were girls. Both genders performed equally well, regardless of age.

The authors wrote the figures suggest "children's neural processing of mathematics comprises one heterogenous group rather than two distinct gender groups.

"In fact, girls and boys showed statistically equivalent levels of neural maturity throughout the brain, suggesting that the neural processing of mathematics develops at similar rates in boys and girls," they wrote.

"Limited evidence for intrinsic, biological gender differences in mathematics ability has fueled debate about the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM fields," the authors said.

Between 2015 and 2016, women made up only 35.5 percent of STEM students in the U.S., 32.6 percent of masters courses, and 33.7 percent at PhD level.

Jessica Cantlon, professor of developmental neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University and senior author of the paper, commented in as statement: "Science doesn't align with folk beliefs.

"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."

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

Alyssa Kersey, postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago department of psychology and first author on the paper, said in a statement: "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.

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

Earlier this year, a separate team of researchers concluded girls would score better in maths and science tests if exams were made longer. This approach could help plug the gender gap in STEM subjects.

The scientists found female students are better at sustaining their performance over a long period when compared to males, and argue this should be regarded as a skill rather than a hindrance.

Study co-author Matthijs Oosterveen, researcher at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, told Newsweek at the time: "The study documents a female strength in test-taking that has largely been ignored and that deserves visibility and recognition. Gender differences in test performance in math and science have generally been perceived as a female weakness. The findings in this study could serve as a counterbalance to the gender stereotypes shaped by this perception."

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A stock image shows a girl completing a math problem. Scientists say girls and boys are equally good at the subject. Getty
Girls and Boys Are Equally Good at Math, and Children's Brains Function Similarly Regardless of Gender: Scientific Study | Tech & Science