Men think they're better at math than they are

"Positive illusions about math abilities may be beneficial to women pursuing math courses and careers," said researcher Shane Bench.
By Brooks Hays  |  June 23, 2015 at 3:54 PM
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PULLMAN, Wash., June 23 (UPI) -- Both in academia and private industry, science and math fields remain dominated by men. One of the factors in creating such a disparity, a new study suggests, may be male overconfidence.

Researchers at Washington State University say men consistently overestimate their mathematic abilities, while women more humbly (and accurately) rate their aptitudes. Men aren't better at math, scientists say -- they just think they are.

According to middle and high school testing results, young women are more able mathematicians and scientists. But many math and science careers remain a boys' club. The study suggests self-awareness may be a hinderance to success in the fields of math and science.

In two studies -- one involving 122 undergraduates at Washington State and the other involving 184 adults -- researchers found men more likely to overrate their performance on a math test and were more likely to pursue career paths related to math and science.

The first study had 122 students take math tests. Afterward, they were asked to predict how they did. Men were more likely to inflate their scores, while women's estimates more closely reflected their performance.

"Gender gaps in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields are not necessarily the result of women's underestimating their abilities, but rather may be due to men's overestimating their abilities," researcher Shane Bench explained in a press release.

The discrepancy in overconfidence was less pronounced for women who reported positive past experiences with math -- highlighting the importance of encouraging young female math students.

"Despite assumptions that realism and objectivity are always best in evaluating the self and making decisions, positive illusions about math abilities may be beneficial to women pursuing math courses and careers," said Bench.

"Such positive illusions could function to protect women's self-esteem despite lower-than-desired performance, leading women to continue to pursue courses in science, technology, engineering and maths fields and ultimately improve their skills."

The new research was published in the journal Sex Roles.

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