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January 20, 2005

Men, women and math...even more...

Well, there's been a lot of brouhaha lately over the president of Harvard's comments on women in science/mathematics and the possibility of innate cognitive differences between men and women. Some people -- scientists, in fact -- seem to not even want to discuss the issue in a rational manner.

Thankfully, some do.

From a University of California, Irvine press release distributed today >> "Intelligence in men and women is a gray and white matter":

The study shows women having more white matter and men more gray matter related to intellectual skill....

In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of or connections between these processing centers.

This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility....

"The study also identified regional differences with intelligence. For example, 84 percent of gray-matter regions and 86 percent of white-matter regions involved with intellectual performance in women were found in the brain's frontal lobes, compared to 45 percent and zero percent for males, respectively. The gray matter driving male intellectual performance is distributed throughout more of the brain.

Here is a link to an abstract of the article which is published in NeuroImage -- and a link to a pre-publication version of the paper.

This research doesn't suggest that all men must be better at higher mathematics than all women. Clearly, some women are likely to be better at higher mathematics than most men. However, such structural brain differences would lead one to conclude that a greater number of men than women will excel at higher mathematics.

Obviously there is a very good likelihood that in academia -- as in any human endeavor -- prejudices do exist and discrimination occurs. Nevertheless, fighting any such discrimination by either refusing to discuss the issue or to undertake research in such a 'touchy' area does not serve to advance our knowledge of who we, as humans, are and what we are like. In fact, such attitudes, if they result in the silencing of certain facts and opinions, will only hamper any further understanding.

Addendum added by Theresa: Here is a more current version of the paper. Download file

TangoMan adds: I don't want people to skip over Theresa's post and this paper she's blogging about because this is what is going to nail down the whole IQ issue. We know know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the gender differences in glorious technicolor.


Posted by theresa at 01:57 PM