School & District Management What the Research Says

Girls’ and Boys’ Early Brains Respond Similarly to Math Tasks

By Sarah D. Sparks — November 26, 2019 1 min read
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Boys and girls start out on the same biological footing when it comes to math, finds the first neuroimaging study of math gender differences in children, published this month in the journal Science of Learning.

Researchers asked about 100 boys and girls, ages 3 to 10, and about 60 adults to watch clips from educational television shows on such math tasks as addition, while inside an fMRI, which measures patterns of brain activity. The researchers compared each participant’s activity overall and in brain areas specifically linked to math performance.

The study found boys and girls equally engaged in the TV shows. Statistical analyses showed no differences in the way boys and girls processed math in the brain, and their brains were developing at the same rate. The results add fuel to ongoing debate over causes and potential ways to close gender gaps in math in the United States by suggesting boys and girls should be looked at as one group with individual differences, rather than two separate groups, when it comes to math ability.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Girls’ and Boys’ Early Brains Respond Similarly to Math Tasks

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