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Friday, October 20, 2006

New Study: “Math Gene” a Myth

posted by on October 20 at 11:39 AM

It should come as no surprise that studies that conclude that girls are “genetically” predisposed to perform poorly at math are scientifically flawed: no one has been able to find a gene for monogamy, homosexuality, violence, sexual predation, or rabid consumption of video games and comic books. Nor have scientists been able to identify a “math” gene, much less isolate it to the Y chromosome.

Now, new research shows that mathmatical ability (or lack thereof) may be a self-fulfilling prophecy:

A report published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science showed that women exposed to theories saying females are genetically bad at math performed far worse on math tests than women who had not been exposed to such beliefs. […]

Psychologists Steven Heine and Ilan Dar-Nimrod, co-author of the Science report, studied how 220 female students performed in math tests after reading fake research reports—all entirely invented by the psychologists—with bogus claims about males being better at math.

One phoney paper claimed to have discovered that the Y chromosome, which only men have, gave males a five percent edge over females in mathematics. […]

Heine said the research clearly showed that women who read the fake report about genetics did much more poorly on the math test.

The research, he said, shows that people believe they can overcome stereotyping and continue to try. But if they blame their genetic makeup and believe they have an innate lack of ability, they give up, he said.

“People think genes are at the core of who we are,” said Heine, who with Dar-Nimrod teaches at the University of British Columbia here. “But much genetics research is still unproved,” he said in an interview with AFP, and “just raising the question about genes has harmful consequences.”

Often, said Heine, science about research on genes affecting gender, obesity or homosexuality is “grossly simplified” in media stories.

You don’t say.

RSS icon Comments


Yeah. It's called the Pygmalion effect and it's been well known in Education circles since 1968. Get with the times!

Posted by gillsans | October 20, 2006 12:35 PM

LOL math gene. Most AP study articles are usually a product of superficial, poorly thought out research projects.

Both my parents were HS dropouts and couldn't do math for beans, and I got as far as Calculus with stellar grades and an easy time for the most part.

Posted by Gomez | October 20, 2006 12:57 PM

Is there a gene that determines aptitude for a career as a geneticist? 'Cause that would be cool.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 20, 2006 1:02 PM

I have an idea that might help based on this current research. What if, for Halloween, women started dressing up in sexy mathematician costumes? Definitely must include the glasses.

Posted by enlightened | October 20, 2006 1:14 PM

I think an AP study, even a lousy one, outranks someone's anecdote.

Just because your parents didn't know math and you excelled at it isn't statistically relevant. Good for you, though. I suck at math.

Posted by smart | October 20, 2006 1:34 PM

C+ troll. Hit all the major bullet-points but was far too obvious a troll attempt. Subtlety counts.

Posted by Gomez | October 20, 2006 2:34 PM

"just raising the question about genes has harmful consequences."

Hiney and The-Nimrod have a point with this quote. Our lives will be in more danger because of their research.

Posted by Fry Day | October 20, 2006 2:35 PM

I'm wondering how they got that study approved. Do those chicks have to go through life thinking that women suck at math?

Posted by mapletree7 | October 20, 2006 5:38 PM

Perhaps a study into whether or not females have math learning disabilities more often than men is in order. A LOT of people have dyscalculia and go undiagnosed for years. I was 33 when I learned I had it.
Sadly, dyscalculia studies are rare, poorly funded and misunderstood by the learning community.

Posted by Sha | October 21, 2006 2:00 AM

People just want simple answers in a complex world.

My daughter suffers from dyspraxia. She can't spell worth diddly, though there are ways to help with the problem, and progress is slowly being made. (In short, you make words visual items to remember instead of text, which apprently are processed by different parts of the brain.) And yet I typically get told about how well she can describe or explain things vocally in class.

She got both, apparently, from my dad, and my two sisters have it in varying degrees. And yet my dad went through college and grad school almost with straight As, save for two Bs, both from the same teacher, both because that teacher wouldn't give As to undergrad students in his graduate-level classes. (What saved my dad was that he didn't go to college until he found something he loved to learn about, was married before he went to college, my mom can type both quickly and well, and she can spell, as can I, pretty effortlessly and well.)

My daughter is also kicking butt in 8th Grade math. And she loves it. (In fact, she's just enough of a math nerd that one of her many internet handles is "littleangle" (deliberately misspelling "angel"), because "it's an a-CUTE angle, Dad." (Cue groans now...)) Girls enjoying math without social reprecussions in Middle School is one, big, frickin' deal, trust me.

So, life and the people within it are just not that simple to figure out. Just marvel, and deal, with what comes. The explanations, assuming you want to really know instead of desiring to madly pigeonhole the answers into the prescribed boxes, will come.

Posted by palamedes | October 21, 2006 8:03 AM

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