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April 2011
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gwen [userpic]
Interesting study found in the Washington Post.

Women Aren't Good in Math . . . or Are They?

Strange but true: Women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues...dozens of other experiments have confirmed that subtly cuing women or minorities to think subconsciously about their sex or race causes them do poorly in areas where the stereotype suggests they are weak.

The experiment cited has a few reasons to pick at it, it's a very small sample size at 90 students, it's also a very selective sample size containing only students from Lafayette College (which is some indication of similar ability going into the study), and I'm really unsure of how an essay on living in Northeastern PA is a "control group". This last nitpick is probably just me not understanding the basis for that, though.

In any case, the study sorted 90 students into three groups, each given questions to reflect on before taking a spatial-math test (Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test) to see if there was any influence on their abilities. The three groups were the "control" group (as mentioned above), the "snob complex" group (they were asked about being at an exclusive school), and the "gender issues" group (they were asked questions that caused them to reflect on gender).

The results found that men in the "gender issues" group did about 25-30% better on the math test, men in the "control" group did about 15-20% better, and men in the "snob complex" group showed "no significant difference" to the scores of the women. Because of the nitpicking I show above, I'm not sure how conclusive this study really is, but it really should be looked further into with a larger and more diverse sample size.

Anyway, I found it fascinating.

Current Mood: quixoticquixotic

It's called distraction. I'd bet if you asked those students ANY kind of distracting, non-math-related questions before setting a bunch of math problems before them they'd do worse on the math problems than they would if they hadn't been given something else to think about beforehand.

Seriously--ask me about HPL and tentacle pr0n and then give me a story problem. I'll completely screw up the math problem!

Wait. I'd screw up the math problem anyway. That's why I'm an English teacher. :)

Wrong, because the "snob complex" questions that allowed the women to do just as well as the men on the math tests had nothing to do with math either. They were like, "So what's it like being at an exclusive university?"

Perhaps it's not so much distraction, then, as much as it is ego-reinforcement or -reduction: those who were preoccupied with questions that gave them a bit of a blow to the ol' ego didn't do as well, whereas those who got the "exclusive university" questions felt pumped up and better about themselves.

yah, but the thing is that the men did just about the same between the egoboo questions as the control questions, meanwhile the women improved so drastically, they caught up with the men.

Implication being men are confident of their mathematical abilities, and women have the spectre to demoralize them.

Doesn't surprise me at all, really, and should suggest more intelligent ways to write and frame tests to keep out those influences.

Though, like you said, would want to see a few more studies to regard it as solidly established.

I'd like to see a test that reversed assumptions, though I'm not sure how I'd do that. Maybe pick some stereotypical 'female' activity, frame it in three different ways (approach it like a problem to be solved, approach it more descriptively, approach it somewhat neutrally) and see how men and women react.

(The three approaches being engineered to either make men dismissive of it or distracted by doing 'wimmin's stuff,' and then to try to get around that by appealing to them in ways they feel more confident in.)


Hello ,

My name is Hunter Chen. I am a graduate student in the Industrial Design Department at National Kaohsiung Normal University . I am very interested in mental rotation. I would like to use it for my master's degree topic. In order to do so, I would like to redraw the Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test for the Chinese research.

I have tried to find a complete test in English but have been unable to do so . Would you have a copy of the test that you can e-mail me or do you know of where I could obtain a copy?

Thank you in advance for you patience and assistance.