Tend to Doubt
Girls' Math, Science Ability
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents
tend to believe that science is less compelling and more challenging
for daughters than for sons, and even appear to use different
language when discussing science with girls than with boys, according
to new research.
These differences existed despite
the fact that the girls and boys included in the study said they
were equally interested in science and confident about their abilities,
and both genders earned the same grades in the subject.
"It's not that the kids are different,
the treatments are different," study author Dr. Harriet R. Tenenbaum
of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Reuters
This unconscious tendency to think
of daughters and sons differently in the realm of science may
partly explain why fewer women than men work in professions that
involve science and math, Tenenbaum and colleague Dr. Campell
But making parents conscious of
their differential treatment could help close that gap, Tenenbaum
"The majority of parents want their
children to be competent," she said. "I think that once parents
become aware of their behaviors, they will act differently."
Leaper and Tenenbaum asked 52 boys
and girls around 11 and 13 years old to indicate how much they
enjoyed science and how well they understood the subject at school.
The researchers asked their parents to answer the same questions
about their sons and daughters.
The families were largely middle-class
The researchers discovered that
parents were more likely to believe their daughters were uninterested
and overly challenged by science than sons. They also found that
fathers were more likely to use challenging or scientific language
during science activities with their sons than with their daughters.
The findings are published in the
January issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.
During the study, the researchers
observed parents interact with their children during a variety
of activities, some scientific and some not.
For instance, parents talked to
their children while performing an experiment in which they dropped
seltzer tablets and raisins into a glass of water. When seltzer
bubbles accumulated in the raisin crevices, the raisin would float
to the surface, at which point the bubbles would pop and the raisin
In another instance, children and
parents discussed interpersonal dilemmas, such as a situation
in which a teacher asks a student to help a classmate with her
homework, but the two girls don't get along.
Tenenbaum explained that, during
scientific activities, fathers were more likely to use challenging
or scientific language such as "carbon dioxide" or "surface tension"
with their sons than with their daughters. On the other hand,
they were more likely to ask daughters challenging questions about
interpersonal dilemmas--such as "why?"
These differences suggest that
as sons grow up, they are given more opportunities to think about
science and become comfortable doing so, according to Tenenbaum.
"In contrast, girls are given opportunities
to develop interpersonal skills," she said.
"I believe both Dr. Tenenbaum and
I would argue that parents' gender attitudes are partly informed
from their own upbringing and preferences, as well as their observations
of the world around them," Leaper said.
"Throughout society, we see mostly
men represented in fields of science," Leaper added. "Indeed,
studies indicate that children tend to view science and math as
SOURCE: Developmental Psychology
Reference Source 89