Are Boys Really Better at Math?

Are we really that different?

We’ve all heard it before, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Actually… when it comes to our brains, it’s true. Consider the following differences starting from innate ones to learned ones:

Women’s brains are smaller: men have larger brains, but this seeming advantage might have just been an issue of proportion, as men weigh about 30 pounds more. There is no evidence that a bigger brain means more smarts.

Boys are hyperactive: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is diagnosed more frequently in boys, but they tend to be more active, fighting or fidgeting, so their problems are obvious. Girls with ADHD may instead by dreamy and spaced out and therefore are not always diagnosed.

Testosterone makes boys aggressive: higher testosterone levels affect male brain development in the womb, but testosterone levels are actually similar in preadolescent boys and girls. In adulthood, aggression and violence are linked to lower brain serotonin (the happy hormone); high testosterone correlates more closely with status.

Girls don’t take risks: men are more likely to die in car accidents or to become successful entrepreneurs. Boys do seem to have a bias towards physical risk taking, but the gender difference for other types or risky behaviour, such as smoking or drinking, is trivial.

Girls are more verbal: boys develop verbal skills more slowly and eventually catch up. Where they end up depends a lot on whom they talk to: Boys who spend more time talking to girls talk more, have bigger vocabularies, and score higher on verbal exams. Gender accounts for only 3% of the language skill differences between individuals; status related factors like income account for 30-70%.

Girls are bad at math: the gap between girls’ and boys’ mathematical ability is small. Girls actually get better math grades than do boys. But males are more variable, so in SAT scores, boys dominate both the top and the bottom of the charts.

Boys have better spatial skills: boys exhibit a natural edge, but they also practice more, playing video games and sports that involve catching and throwing. Abilities are not predetermined. A study of women native to Baffin Island, Canada, who navigate and hunt as much as men, shows that they have equal spatial skills.

Men aren’t emotional: in general, women are better at interpreting facial expressions. But about 1/3 of men are better face readers than the average woman. The brains of both mothers and fathers respond more to a baby’s cries than the brains of female or male non-parents; the experience of parenthood is stronger than the fact of gender.

(Taken from Discover Presents The Brain, Fall 2009, Mr., and Mrs., and myths)

When it comes to love, read below an interesting article on the differences between men and women from CNN

“The man trance”

For men, the “defend your turf” area – the dorsal premammillary nucleus- is larger and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males. Moreover, their alarm system for threats, fear and danger- the amygdala- is also larger. These brain differences mean that men are more alert than women to potential turf threats, i.e. men mark their territory, and trespass at your own risk. Meanwhile, the “I feel what you feel” part of the brain – the mirror-neuron system- is larger and more active in the female brain. So women can naturally get in tune with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions, interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues.

But, perhaps the biggest difference between the two species… men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but from their early teens, they produce 20-25 times more more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence. If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day.

This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex. All that testosterone drives the “Man Trance”– that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts. Women usually wish men can stop themselves from entering this trance, but the truth is, they can’t. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual attraction, they still have to check out the goods. To a man, this is the most natural response in the world, so he’s confused by how betrayed his wife or girlfriend feels when she sees him eyeing another woman. Men look at attractive women the way women look at pretty butterflies. They catch the male brain’s attention for a second, but then they escape out of his mind. Five minutes later, while women are still fuming, he’s deciding whether he wants ribs or chicken for dinner. He asks, “What’s wrong?” The woman says, “Nothing.” He shrugs and turns on the TV, and the woman gets anxious and scared he’ll leave her for someone else.

Poker face

Although men have earned the reputation for being more indifferent than women, they actually have stronger emotional reactions than women- they just don’t show it very often. Studies of men’s faces show that the male brain’s initial emotional reaction can be stronger than the female’s. But within 2.5 seconds, he changes his face to hide the emotion, or even reverse it! The repeated practice of hiding his emotions gives men the classic poker face. It’s his poker face that can let steam blow out of your ears. She’s crying as she talks about what’s wrong with the relationship, and instead of hugging her, his mind is racing to find a way to resolve the problem as soon as possible. Because of the way their brains are wired, men use their analytical brain structures, not their emotional ones, to find a solution.

They enjoy this advantage, but women often take insult to it. When you’re telling your husband your problem and he tries to solve it instead of hearing you out, you may think he’s being insensitive. But that’s not what’s going on in his brain. He’s working to solve the problem so he can relieve your pain as quickly as possible. Not because he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to listen, but because he loves you.

Not convinced? See a counter article here.

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