Re: Geary Commentators: Hammer, Kimball, Kornbrot

From: Fenton Elizabeth (
Date: Fri Feb 13 1998 - 16:08:35 GMT

[parts of this response were truncated, so it is not complete]

Response to comment on section 3 (Elliott Mark)

[ m> = Elliott Mark]

m> "The implications of this is clear in that if females are poorer at
m> math than males then teachers should spend more time concentrating on
m> female students. However why should males and females be different?
m> Surely females would inherit genes from their father as well as their
m> mother and thus may inherit the dominant gene for math. Similarly males
m> would inherit genes from their mother and thus maybe the "gene which
m> makes mathematical ability crap". this would stem back through the
m> generations thus balancing out ability in males and females."

This seems a very good point as surely if there were specific genes
determining ability in maths, then males and females would be as likely
to inherit the "good mathematical ability gene" as the "poor
mathematical ability gene". But people aren't eith

m> "I do not agree that their is no gene for math. I believe everyone has
m> a gene which determines the potential for math (and other) abilities.
m> However how well math ability develops depends on social influences
m> such as learning and experience. These influences cannot be ignored.
m> They must represent a substantial amount of our capabilities today.
m> For example if a clone were made of a new born baby (making them
m> identical in every way) evolutionary psychology would argue that they
m> would grow to be the same because they are dominated by their genes.
m> Thus both would have the same math ability. However the different
m> social influences that they are exposed to would alter their
m> behavioural tendencies and abilities. If one has been given
m> encouraging support to develop their math skills and the other has not,
m> the one that has been exposed to the encouraging environment would have
m> better skill."

Surely only a minority are exposed to an "encouraging environment"
whether they be male or female, and how can this account for
differences within same-sex siblings, who share some of their genes,
should have grown up in similar environment and yet

m> "Also the claim that gender stereotypes are reinforced since the day we
m> are born influence the feelings and attitudes of educators would make
m> no difference to how boys and girls are treated in school policies.
m> Social stereotypes are not a fixed entity and are subject to change
m> over the years with changes in social norms. Therefore in current day
m> society, with the awareness of equal rights, social stereotypes would
m> not influence teachers to believe that boys are better than girls."

Despite the "awareness" of eqality, I doubt that this would mean that social stereotypes will not influence the majority of teachers to believe in certain differences in the sexes. Remember it was less than 100 years ago that it was commonly believed

>teachers of both sexes pay more positive as well as negative
>attention to boys than girls in class, and encourage higher-order
>thinking skills in boys more than girls.
>High achieving girls get the least attention of any group, even less
>than low-achieving girls, while high-achieving boys get the most
>teacher attention. This is an environmental variable which must be
>considered in claims as to greater biological superiority in solving
>mathematical word problems.

m> "Maybe older teachers would behave this way but younger ones are less
m> likely."

In an idealistic world this would be so, and I do agree that there is
less of a difference, but when considering gender differences, it is
still necessary to consider differences in attitude.


m> "I agree that math skill may be in some way related to 3D spatial
m> skill problem solving skills etc."

Are the 3D spatial skills included in the term "mathematical
abilities", as this seems to cover a wide range of skills? Referring to
the quote below, don't girls take the same amount of courses and yet
despite this, some studies found gender differen

m> "I also agree that if girls take more courses they will be as good as
m> males at maths. But I think that this is the case now- definitely
m> at secondary scholl and college"


>Geary uses "sexual selection" as a theoretical framework to explain
>such differences, but we feel that they can be explained by totally
>different factors. The fact that our study was conducted in a
>conservative and catholic school in Belgium is a bias : in such a
>school, the students mostly come from a fairly traditional
>background, where sexual roles tend to be stressed from a very early
>age, with possible influences in school performances, especially in
>what is usually considered as a "male topic". The same might be true
>of any fairly conservative school and the author does not mention
>researches in other schools.

m> "I agree with this argument in that math may be seen as a male topic
m> and thus females will be less likely to choose it and will therefore be
m> not as good as males. But I think that this is only so in certain
m> "traditional" societies. In some cultures as argued earlier males and
m> females will be given the same treatment and with changing social noms
m> through time math is seen as no longer such a predominantly male topic
m> as it was."

This does not explain why, in a supposedly equal society, in
mathematical related courses, such as engineering, there is generally a
majority of males that do the courses, which leads us into a circular
discussion of stereotypes.

m> "to some degree I believe that sexual selection is relevant to explain
m> sexual differences in mathematics. however I believe that all
m> factors in our society today have resulted from that society and
m> changes in it over time... .....Therefore social
m> learning and encouragement is just as important if not more so to sex
m> differences (eg how a person is brought up)"
I have to agree that even if there are maths genes, it is ultimately
the attitudes toward that ability,or lack of, that determines how
people see it. Any difference between genders in maths, seems to be
very small, and cannot explain the many males tha

Fenton Elizabeth

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:19 GMT