Low Confidence In Mathematics Hinders Women From Pursuing Science Degrees, Says Research

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Low Confidence In Mathematics Hinders Women From Pursuing Science Degrees, Says Research

Low Confidence In Math Hinders Women From Pursuing Science Degrees

New Delhi:  In a study published in the journal 'Frontiers in Psychology' researchers have claimed that girls harbor low confidence about their mathematical abilities in comparison to boys even though there is no apparent difference in their abilities. The low confidence in mathematical abilities is what makes fewer women choose a career in sciences. The research team also found that perception gaps were even wider at the upper levels of mathematical ability among students who were more talented and had more potential in these fields.

Lara Perez-Felkner of Florida State University in the US who was a part of the research team said, "The argument continues to be made that gender differences in the 'hard' sciences is all about ability. But when we hold mathematics ability test scores constant, effectively taking it out of the equation, we see boys still rate their ability higher, and girls rate their ability lower."

According to Press Trust of India, the researchers found that boys felt more confident in challenging mathematics contexts than equally talented girls. Boys also rated their ability 27% higher than girls.

Perceived ability under challenge was measured through a study which followed 10th grade students over a six-year period until two years after high school.

Students from 10th and 12th grade were asked to indicate their level of agreement to certain statements as part of a survey. The survey included statements like "I'm certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in math texts." Perez-Felkner said that a student's confidence in their own ability to solve a mathematical problem is important as it influences their choice of math and science course in high school. "It influences whether they choose colleges that are strong in certain science majors. It also influences the majors they intend to pursue and the majors they actually declare and continue on with in degrees and potential careers," he said.

These findings highlight the perceived ability beliefs at a critical time when more women are departing from male-dominated science career pathways during high school and college.

Researchers also argued that the gender differences in confidence in mathematical ability in challenging contexts have long term bearings. The researchers found out that boys since a very young age are encouraged to pursue challenges including the risk of failure whereas girls are encouraged to pursue perfection and are subjected to more restrictive standards reinforced by media and society.

During middle and high school, methods such as science camps, encouraging girls to participate in upper level science courses or extra-curricular activities, informal science learning experiences and increasing visibility and access to women scientists can retain girls' interest in so called hard science fields.  Better and increased access to advanced science coursework in high school and the early years of post-secondary school can increase chances of girls entering these fields. 

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(With Inputs from Press Trust of India)

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