Boys vs. girls: Are they really different?

The discrepancy of math scores between males and females has been found to be due to expectation bias of both the teacher and the parents.  If the teacher told the class that they expected the boys to do better than the girls, the scores reflected that.  If they told the class the test trended to score better for girls, then the scores reflected that as well.  Also, if they told the children there was no difference in scores and everyone should score about the same, then there were no significant differences between genders.  I believe the main problem is that we place expectation on children that they should not expect to succeed in certain areas even before they step foot in class.

Kelley and Blashfield (2009) state that psychology is no different than any other social construction because of the passion, pressures, and preconceptions that we bring into our studies to confound them.  Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson, Rosenkrantz, and Vogel (1970) found that double standards in clinician’s views of men and women were a glaring example of these biases, where the health care officials favored the men over the women.  This is very similar to the math scores of girls and boys.  If teachers expect girls to perform worse than boys on tests then they may be influencing those poor results by teaching the girls differently, worse, or not at all.

By changing the bias of the teachers and showing them that these things affect how their students score on tests perhaps we can stop this from happening.  We should be teaching teachers that girls are just as capable as boys are in terms of math ability.  It would help greatly to reduce the bias of teachers to expect girls to score high just as they do boys.  This is no different than a researcher showing bias in expectation from one group over another in their study.  It confounds the results and therefore does not elicit a solid study with credible results.

As a former math professor, I have seen this bias and what it can do to someone. Female students in their 20s and 30s who have never understood math until someone actually took the time to sit down and explain it to them: the rules, the logic, the tricks, etc. All of their hangups were based on teacher biases and the expectation that because they were girls they would have to work harder to figure things out. It’s not fair to the student or to our society that we are sabotaging people based on faulty information and expectations. Tell the student you expect them to succeed and they will.

References

Broverman, I. K., Broverman, D. M., Clarkson, F. E., Rosenkrantz, P. S., & Vogel, S. R. (1970). Sex role stereotypes and clinical judgments of mental health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 34, 1–7.

Kelley, L.P., & Blashfield, R.K. (2009). An example of psychological science’s failure to self-correct. Review of General Psychology, 13(2), 122-129. DOI: 10.1037/a0015287

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One comment on “Boys vs. girls: Are they really different?

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