No gender differences in neural processing of mathematics in early childhood
Alyssa J. Kersey1, Kelsey D. Csumitta1, Jessica F. Cantlon1; 1University of Rochester
Recent public discussions have suggested that fewer women than men pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) due to intrinsic differences in aptitude. However, in adults, it is difficult to disentangle intrinsic differences from cultural influences. If intrinsic differences drive the under-representation of women in STEM careers, these differences should be evident in the neural processing of STEM concepts in early childhood. To test this prediction, we measured the neural maturity of boys’ and girls’ processing of mathematical concepts by calculating intersubject correlations between children (3- to 10-year-olds; 55 girls, 49 boys) and adults (35 women, 28 men) who watched mathematics videos during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). To compare boys and girls, we tested for statistical differences and statistical equivalence in mean neural maturity, statistical differences in the variability of neural maturity, and statistical differences in the relation between boys’ and girls’ math ability and their processing of mathematics concepts. Analyses were conducted within an independently defined mathematics network (bilateral intraparietal sulcus, bilateral frontal gyrus, and anterior cingulate cortex). Across all analyses boys and girls showed no differences in mathematical processing, and in fact, showed statistical equivalence in all regions of the mathematics network. This is the first study to test for statistical equivalence and differences in variability between gender groups in the brain. These results show that any observed gender differences in adults’ mathematics ability or mathematics-related neural activity do not arise from early childhood and thus, do not have an early biological origin.
Topic Area: THINKING: Reasoning