Left Side, Right Side, Offside
Are boys better than girls in mathematics, because of left brain dominance? The concept of left brain and right brain thinking developed from the research in the late 1960s by an American neurosurge...
Are boys better than girls in mathematics, because of left brain dominance?
The concept of left brain and right brain thinking developed from the research in the late 1960s by an American neurosurgeon Roger W Sperry. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1981.
I came across a variation of this theory (which I’ll call the gender theory) in the late 1970s. The gender theory was put forward as a means of explaining why at that time, boys out - performed girls in the field of mathematics.
The left brain/ right brain theory says that the left side of the brain is logical, analytical and objective.
The gender theory says that this "masculine" side of the brain is assertive, aggressive and authoritative
The left brain/ right brain theory says that the right side of the brain is random, emotional, spontaneous, and subjective.
The gender theory says that this "feminine" side of the brain is emotional, passive, creative and holistic
The gender theory then says that dominant side of boys brains is the left side, hence their mathematical skills are better.
Behavioural psychologists set out to prove or disprove this gender theory by measuring passive/ aggressive tendencies. There were a lot of dodgy psychological experiments performed.
Animal psychologists fed chickens male hormones and measured the increased peck rate. Other psychologists worked with small babies. It was found for example, that when a researcher blew on the baby’s face while it was lying in the pram, a girl baby would turn over and go back to sleep, whereas a boy baby would react in a more belligerent manner, perhaps giving the psychologist a whack with his rattle.
Psychologists applied a standard statistical test (5% significance level) to ‘prove’ the theory, even though they had a minimal knowledge of statistics.
However, it was found that aggressive/ passive behaviour is much more influenced by sexual stereotyping.
In an experiment conducted with a small boy aged about 3 years old, a female carer was told to look after him. When he was dressed as a boy, the carer played more active/ rougher games, such as kicking a ball, with him. When the same boy was dressed as a girl, a carer sat the ‘girl’ on her lap and used a doll to play with ‘her’.
This illustrates that a boy is ‘conditioned’ to be aggressive, and a girl is ‘conditioned’ to be passive.
So is there any ‘truth’ in the left/ right brain theory and the ‘gender theory’?
In my experience as a mathematics teacher, I’ve found that boys tend to solve mathematical problems in a more aggressive manner, and will try different approaches if one method fails. Girls tend to be more passive in their problem solving. Quite often a girl will start to use the correct method, but abandon her solution through a lack of confidence when the going gets slightly more difficult.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kenneth Morley has been a UK Mathematics Teacher for over 25
years. He has taught the age range 11 to 19 at secondary level in
mathematics education,. Read similar articles, download activities,
mathematics tutorials at http://www.tutorialsinmaths.com