Geary 0: Introduction

From: Beck Alexandra (
Date: Tue Feb 10 1998 - 12:09:04 GMT


>The principles of sexual selection provide a useful theoretical
>framework for >understanding human sex differences in certain social
>and sexual behaviours as well >as sex differences in certain
>cognitive domains.

Sexual selection is used as a primary theoretical context to explain
sex differences in mathematical abilities.

>Sexual selection appears to have directly shaped the social and
>cognitive styles of >males and females.
Not by evolution.
>which, in turn, influence mathematical development and performance
>and contribute >to sex differences in certain mathematical domains.

>children's mathematical development occurs primarily in school
>settings, and, as a >result, the assessment of mathematical
>performance necessarily reflects some >cultural influences i.e.
>schooling and other sociocultural influences.

This does not exclude primary biological influences.

A framework for making inferences about forms of cognition
Biologically influenced = biologically primary
Culturally specific = biologically secondary

>On the basis of this framework, a systematic assessment of sex
>differences in >mathematical abilities requires a consideration of
>whether the differences in question >are evident for biologically-
>primary or biologically-secondary mathematical domains,

>If sexual selection were directly related to sex differences in
>mathematical abilities >then any such sex difference should be most
>evident for biologically-primary >mathematical domains i.e. those
>least affected by sociocultural influences (e.g >schooling ). In
>contrast, if there are no sex differences in biologically-primary
>mathematical >domains but consistent sex differences in secondary
>mathematical domains, then >there are two general potential sources
>of these sex differences.

1) a difference in the schooling of boys and girls, given that school
is the primary cultural context within which secondary mathematical
abilities appear to emerge 2) the source of sex differences in
secondary mathematical domains is the secondary effects of sexual
selection on the cognitive and social styles of boys and girls

>The present article is not the first to argue that cognitive sex
>differences in general >and sex differences in mathematics in
>particular have biological origins.

>Other theories of sex differences
>Benbow, for instance, presented evidence suggesting that the greater
>number of >males than females at the upper end of the distribution of
>SAT scores reflects, at >least in part, a sex difference in the
>functional organization of the left- and right >hemisphere. McGee
>argued that a sex difference in certain forms of spatial cognition
>>has biological origins and contributes to sex differences in certain
>mathematical >areas. Sherman (1980, 1981), in contrast, presented
>evidence suggesting that the sex >difference in mathematics was
>primarily related to the greater mathematical >confidence of boys
>than girls

>In fact, the emergence of any complex cognitive skill almost
>certainly reflects an >Interaction between biologically based
>differences in the types of activities that boys >and girls prefer to
>engage in and the environments made available to them by parents >and
>by peers.

>The present article builds on and extends previous theoretical
>treatments of the >source and nature of sex differences in
>mathematics in several ways.

e.g. sexual selection has resulted in a sex difference in the social
preferences of males and females and examines how evolved cognitive
abilities might be manifested in evolutionarily novel contexts (such
as schools ).

Alex Beck

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