Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nurture Affects Gender Differences in Math Abilities, Researcher Says

Nurture plays an important role in shaping math abilities for both men and women, says Moshe Hoffman, a postdoctoral researcher with a joint appointment at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Rady School of Management. That's the conclusion that Hoffman and his Rady School adviser, Uri Gneezy, reached after conducting an extensive study published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hoffman will present his findings during a talk at 2 p.m. today at the Qualcomm Conference Room at Jacobs Hall.

His study already has generated a wave of media coverage. Some examples below:
Time Magazine
The Wall Street Journal

Also, here is the abstract of the paper:
Women remain significantly underrepresented in the science, engineering, and technology workforce. Some have argued that spatial ability differences, which represent the most persistent gender differences in the cognitive literature, are partly responsible for this gap. The underlying forces at work shaping the observed spatial ability differences revolve naturally around the relative roles of nature and nurture. Although these forces remain among the most hotly debated in all of the sciences, the evidence for nurture is tenuous, because it is difficult to compare gender differences among biologically similar groups with distinct nurture. In this study, we use a large-scale incentivized experiment with nearly 1,300 participants to show that the gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society. We also show that about one-third of the effect can be explained by differences in education. Given that none of our participants have experience with puzzle solving and that villagers from both societies have the same means of subsistence and shared genetic background, we argue that these results show the role of nurture in the gender gap in cognitive abilities.

Here is the full text of the paper. 

Make sure to stop by and listen in!