General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Are girls and boys inherently different in learning styles?

Asked by wundayatta (58571points) May 29th, 2009

There are differences observed (through studies) but I don’t attribute those differences to inherent differences between males and females of our species. Simone_De_Beauvoir wrote that in this question. I had gotten into an offshoot of the question that had to do with what I believe are differing learning styles for girls and boys.

Male and female bodies and brains are configured differently. Is function, in humans, dependent on form, and if so, to what extent? Is human behavior inherently different based on gender? If so, what do you think the inherent causes of those differences are? If not, then what explains observed differences in behavior?

I leave it to you to define inherent since I’m not quite sure what that means.

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42 Answers

rhector63's avatar

well, if you think about all the things girls and boys do differently.
you have the girls which like to renact being older, cleaning, sweeping, and taking care of a plastic doll.
On the other hand guys like to play sports (not saying girls don’t like to eithe), and do all that stuff.

I don’t know if this is getting off topic. one things for sure, boys and girls though process is differnt. hav eyou ever seen those movies were a kid will show a girl a frog and she’ll scream and run, will the boys say cool and awsome. do you get me they don’t all think the same.
maybe because we’ve gotten used to these ideas of “no common thought”

oratio's avatar

@daloon
Male and female bodies and brains are configured differently.

Could you develop that?

rhector63's avatar

@oratio what do you mean by configured differently

oratio's avatar

@rhector63 I was quoting. That’s my question as well.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I was always of the belief that there are no inherent biological differences between men and women. After taking cultural anthropology, it only solidified my beliefs that much more.

The differences in behavior are a direct result of how our society raises children. If one treats boys and girls differently from the time of birth – and most people do – they will grow up to be different. Did you know that most females start off far better at math than boys, at a young age? But due to our cultural beliefs, teachers often disregard and neglect these talents found in young females. Anthropological studies, across the board, have found that American teachers actually admitted to paying more attention to boys that were better at math. As a result, girls are significantly worse at math by the time they reach higher grades, when as a matter of fact, most of them have the potential to outdo males in the same arena.

There’s also the question of people claiming “biological difference” when they only take their immediate culture into consideration. If men and women were truly different, if men and women were equipped to better handle certain things, there would be no differences in roles found anywhere in the world. Biological is biological and it doesn’t apply to some humans and not others. That said, there have been many cultures found where roles between men and women are completely switched or are exactly equal. Aside from simple roles, their personalities are also different. There are some societies in which men are typically more submissive, more nurturing, prone to gossip and raise the children. Women, on the other hand, are far more aggressive, dominant, violent and are responsible for “bringing home the bacon”.

Gender differences, at least to the degree that people typically think of them, do not exist. We are all a product, to one degree or another, of our upbringing.

rhector63's avatar

but if you think about it, only what percent of how your raised affects what you think of a man and a woman.

oh and @oratio haha i see that now

cwilbur's avatar

Suppose you pick a dimension—in this case, we’ll say learning styles. You determine the learning style for a lot of men and a lot of women, and plot them a graph. The center of the “male” points will probably be different from the center of the “female” points—but there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a good many pairs of male points that are farther apart than the male center and the female center, and a good many male points that are closer to the female center than some of the female points.

In other words: even if you find a statistically significant difference between the genders, you’ll find that the differences between individual members of either gender are greater than the differences between the genders.

And, as @DrasticDreamer points out, a large part of this difference is learned rather than innate, which is why I used the word “gender” rather than “sex.”

auspex's avatar

While culture does play a heavy role in development, you cannot deny the biological aspect. There are some inherent mechanisms that cause females and males to perceive the world differently (i.e. we know that women have better color vision and men have a greater tendency to be color-blind), and I can only assume that translates up to differences in learning style, as our education system now relies heavily on graphical representations to simplify concepts and interest children.
@DrasticDreamer You said that most young females start out better at math than their male counterparts. Wouldn’t this evidence only support an inherent difference?

rhector63's avatar

The school systems though try to make school equal to a point of despare were everything is equal. The only thing that can breakdown the system is teachers who in there own state of mind decide to change it and well unbalance this

rooeytoo's avatar

This concept of learning differently seems to be a recent development. Was it the result of some government funded study?

When I was in grade school, I don’t think the concept was in vogue so all were taught the same and discipline was required of all. There were some who were more difficult than others, some kids acted out as they would say today. Probably more boys than girls but again girls had to behave or you would make the blessed mother cry, so what young female would dare!

DrasticDreamer and cwilbur have eloquently said what I think to be the truth.

Why do some people insist on finding a reason to change what has worked for years, is that progress?

rhector63's avatar

@rooeytoo i dont think you would call the change progress
its because people want “us” to see the difference between us
trying to make it seem as though some gender is better than the other which we all no is not true whatsoever

cyn's avatar

everyone is different
the only thing in common we have is that we are all humans

YARNLADY's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Could you be more specific about a society where men are submissive and nurturing and women ‘bring home the bacon’? I don’t know of any, so I’m curious where you got the information?

I the long run, it doesn’t matter if there is a biological reason for it. As you observe, the social traits are there, and if not taken into consideration, will only lead to conflict.

When I was living a hippie life style, we tried to eliminate the boy/girl stereotype from our ‘perfect’ society, but unless there is a huge society-wide paradigm shift, it just doesn’t work.

How many people right here on Fluther think its important to know whether Jellies are male or female? They want to make value judgments based on gender.

rooeytoo's avatar

Why was this never an issue when males were scoring higher academically. Here in Australia and I think in USA as well, the question has been raised because girls are now scoring higher or equal to the boys so there must be something wrong with the way boys are being taught. For the previous 100 or so years when boys were scoring higher, nobody cared or gave it a second thought.

What does that tell you?

I am always curious about whether Jellies are male or female but I don’t think it is to make value judgments based on gender. I think I am just curious. Interesting thought though.

rhector63's avatar

@rooeytoo
well you bring up an interesting point.
have you ever heard the saying “girls go to jupitar to get more stupider, and boys go to college to get more knowledge” (its a elementary school saying) but as you see we grew up in a world were women were unequal to men, men were always characterized as the bigger human. Men go to work to bring home the bacon and to support the wife.

if you notice, this is more like making women inferior to men
even though it may not be correct its still a common misconception among Americans

rooeytoo's avatar

@rhector63 – thank goodness I never heard that little ditty as a child because I would have been forced to punch out the little snotty nosed male who said it to me, see I do not adhere to gender specific parameters.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@YARNLADY Yes, definitely. It’s in one of my anthropology books, and I’ll look for that specific part and post here, once I find it.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@auspex No, not necessarily. Just because they start off better it doesn’t mean that boys can’t catch up eventually. There’s no way for us to know for sure, because no one’s ever allowed it to happen.

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t really know how to answer your primary question about learning styles because I’d have trouble defining or measuring “learning style.”

Since this thread has gone in that direction anyway, let’s talk about sex influences on the neurobiology of learning and memory.

It is no longer really contested by neuroscientists that:

1. Men are better than women at certain kinds of tasks involving spatial rotation and memory. Here is a link to a table of twelve studies, eleven of which find a statistically significant difference between men and women on this kind of task.

2. Men are better than women at some kinds of spatial navigation tasks. Here is a link to another table where again, eleven of twelve studies find this effect to be statistically significant.

3. Interestingly, women tend to be better than men at remembering the locations of objects.

4. Women tend to perform better on tests of verbal memory.

I’d like to point out that some of the studies I’ve referenced cut across research on humans and on animals. So unless anyone wants to argue that we socialize rats and mice in certain ways to bias their performance, I think this kind of research shows a pretty clear inherent biological difference rather than a socially constructed difference.

oratio's avatar

@nikipedia Well, if that is true, it’s true in general. In everyday life, blanket statements about differences between men and women, doesn’t count for much. By that I mean that I think we focus too much about differences that might be there. I probably have much more in common with you than a man in Kuala Lumpur.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@nikipedia Maybe no one will argue that rats and mice being socialized, but plenty of people will argue that because they aren’t human beings, the results from their tests don’t apply to human beings.

After taking cultural anthropology no one will convince me that there are inherent differences. The fact that there are currently certain differences does not mean that they are inherent. Maybe if girls were raised the same as boys and vice versa, the things that they were better at would suddenly switch. It can not be said that it couldn’t happen, because no one knows.

nikipedia's avatar

@oratio: I don’t understand. If what is true?

@DrasticDreamer: I mean this as an honest question, not to be antagonistic—what kind of proof would convince you that animal research can, under some circumstances, be a reasonable tool for understanding human biology and behavior? Please note that I am not asking what would convince you that it’s ethical—just what would convince you that animals are ever scientifically valid models.

You say that you won’t be convinced of inherent differences, so I guess it’ s a fool’s errand to try, but let me tell you about one more piece of evidence that I find convincing. Neurobiologists (myself included) believe that the differences observed between men and women tend to come from different levels of sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone. But as you might guess, these sex hormones don’t start to be significantly different until the onset of puberty.

And guess when you start to see the differences I outlined above emerge?

You got it: puberty.

The cultural influences you describe, if present, should be there from birth, no? So if culture was the explanation for these differences rather than sex hormones, why would these differences suddenly emerge when sex hormones diverge?

oratio's avatar

@nikipedia Sorry. That men and women are better than each other at doing different things. That they have different qualities.

Do I make sense?

rooeytoo's avatar

cwilbur made an excellent point, “even if you find a statistically significant difference between the genders, you’ll find that the differences between individual members of either gender are greater than the differences between the genders.”

There are always going to be extremes, but in the middle, where most fall, the difference would not be nearly as noticeable were it not for cultural bias and influence.

But what is the point of going on and on about all these differences. I say let PEOPLE do what they are best at and what makes them happy. If someone avoids hiring a female mathematician because male rats are better at spacial rotation tasks, is that a good thing and makes the money spent on the study all worthwhile?

I never understood comparisons between rats and humans with regard to human brain function. Do girl rats and boy rats learn differently? That was the gist of the original question?

nikipedia's avatar

@rooeytoo: Do you think we should ever study anything just out of curiosity? Or do you only take issue with studying sex differences because you think people might misuse their findings?

Comparisons between humans and rats are based on the idea that our brains have a lot in common with rats, and sometimes our behavior does too. We can manipulate conditions in rats that we can’t manipulate in humans. Also, they’re a simpler system so we don’t have to worry about so many variables. They’re an imperfect model and can’t explain everything about behavior, but they have been extremely useful in explaining some stuff.

casheroo's avatar

After being a nanny, for mainly a little girl (the boys were in school, and now raising a boy…I can say without a doubt, boys learn different and at a different pace than girls.
It’s painfully obvious when I compare him to other little boys and girls his age. He’s ahead of other boys, but behind the girls.
I’m not sure if I’m knowledgable enough to answer your question the way you’d like.

wundayatta's avatar

In my life, I’ve seen this issue go around and around. In the seventies, when women were fighting hard to get equal pay for equal work, and to get access to jobs they could do but were being kept out of, and to stop being pigeonholed in “women’s” work, the notion that gender differences were cultural was very popular.

Many of my friends believed that if they brought up their boys and girls the same, and lived in female communes, and didn’t let them watch TV or get any exposure to outside culture, the children would grow up the same, without gender differences. So they all went out and tried this. Then the stories started coming back about how, no matter how hard they tried, it didn’t work. Boys and girls behaved differently and learned differntly and had different interests, on average.

Let me say a little about my “on average” qualifier. Statisticians always say this because we all know that individual behavior varies much more than average behavior. On average, you can make a generalization, and people often call this a stereotype. We all agree, though, that just because there is an average difference between all males and all females, doesn’t mean that indivuals of each gender might act more like the other gender than their cohort.

So back to my story. I had children very late in life compared to most (again, another average). So I knew the results of all the feminist experiments by the time I was able to have children. Everyone said, over and over, that boys are different from girls, and it has nothing to do with culture. Various studies, such as the ones Nikipedia cited, began to come out showing differences in brains that affect ways of thinking. Other studies focused on other differences, and all these differences were based on physical characteristics, not cultural.

A side note, again. Cultural anthropologists usually use qualitative methods. They observe behavior. They rarely, if ever, count things. This means they don’t know how prevalent various types of behavior they see are. This biases them to think the world at large is how they see it in small situations. Since they tend not to be educated in statistics, they often don’t understand how their generalizations can’t be supported. Even in their departments, cultural anthropologists and physical anthropoligists tend not to understand each other.

Anyway, I’ve watched my own children, a boy and a girl, grow, and I’ve been very supportive of my son being open to all things, as well as my daughter. At first, he was into dolls and wearing pink when his sister treated him like a doll and dressed him up. He thought it was funny. As he grew, he still kept to this, even in school, but gradually he stopped being interested in “girl” things, and started just being more physically active, climbing trees, riding bikes, etc.

My daughter has always been “girly” and it kills me. I tried really hard to get her interested in bicycle riding, and she was afraid to fall, and wouldn’t learn. I’ve heard from coaches of women’s lacrosse that girls have to be taught how to be aggressive and uncaring on the field. If someone gets hurt, their tendency is to slow down and cluster around the hurt person when they can’t afford to do that, or they’ll get scored against. She has various exercises to teach girls how to think differently and how to ignore their instincts. This is a woman who is very much in favor of strong women, and women in sports, and she’s just being realistic about what she’s up against.

So, things are coming back around, I think, to the realization that boys and girls are different, and it’s physiological, not cultural, and it affects how they think and how they learn. One example is that while both boys and girls get ADD, and even if ADD is overdiagnosed, boys represent, by far, the majority of ADD cases—I believe it’s around 90%.

I have a friend whose business is selling software that allows ADD kids to learn visually, by supporting the visualization of concepts, instead of writing them down. Apparantly this helps a lot.

I’ll look for sources, but I believe that boys are not as good as girls at math and writing and reading. Girls already outnumber boys in college and in the white collar work force, and the difference is only going to increase. The glass ceiling hasn’t broken quite yet, but it’ll crack soon. It has to. There aren’t going to be enough men to take these leadership positions, ever if women weren’t better.

Schools are not oriented towards girls, and the pendulum has swung too far, because now boys are being neglected and, dare I say it, discriminated against. Of course the discrimination is generally not recognized, just as discrimination against women wasn’t recognized in the fifties and sixties. I say this as a feminist—a person who believes in equality.

However, since I believe in equality, I don’t want to see things go the other way. Society needs boys as much as it needs girls, and we can’t afford to neglect male talents if we are to solve so many of the huge problems humanity faces.

When I get a chance, I’ll do some research to back these points up. Or maybe someone else will help. I just want to say there is good reason for concern, and, in the education policy think tanks, and amongst other academics, there is already a significant amount of recognition of this issue. I think we need to keep our eyes open, and be careful about our stereotypes. The old ones may be out of date, and if we don’t figure it out, there will be serious problems.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Actually, cultural anthropologists tend to be educated in statistics now and they count things all the time.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’m too tired now but I’ll get back to this tomorrow
quickly though @nikipedia sure hormones can play a difference
but how much, really? i mean, really, how much should the play a difference in deciding to SEPARATE genders in schools?

pikipupiba's avatar

Ask any person going through puberty how much it affects them. I’ll give you a hint… It’s not a little.

I myself when from wanting to burn things to wanting to hump things.

nikipedia's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: Who said anything about separating genders….?

And if you’re interested in effect sizes, the tables I linked to all have them.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@nikipedia
I work with schools and more and more schools are learning this whole ‘girls and boys learn differently’ crap to create single sex schools

rhector63's avatar

In responce to @nikipedia
the reason there doing this is to create a virtual “learning”
boundary.
the current Secretary of education Arne Duncan is not a exeption
he is trying to remove competition between genders to just like @nikipedia said to create single sex schools.
i know it sounds quite absurd but how long ago did this problem start
im not tryin to pin this on Duncun
but still what value are we teaching if
there isn’t competition
sure too much competition isn’t good
but too little is even worse

nikipedia's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: But you see the difference between saying “these differences in learning exist” and saying “we should make single-sex schools”....right?

@rhector63: I’m sorry, I don’t understand your comment.

rhector63's avatar

@nikipedia
just trying to explain why they want
to create Single Sex Schools
becasue of the competition between male and females

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@nikipedia of course i see the difference
but some people don’t

rooeytoo's avatar

For years and years children were taught in a given fashion and boys seemed to excel at most subjects. Now was this because the initial method of teaching was based on experiments on rats and geared towards a boys way of learning?

Then according to Daloon the feminist movement caused the methods of teaching to be changed so that now girls are on the ascendency and boys are being left behind.

So the answer is to build separate (but equal I am sure) schools so that boys can once again gain higher scores than girls? Or are we trying to achieve absolute equality so exactly the same number of boys and girls have the same scores and enter college and graduate at the same rate. And exactly the same number of boys and girls become doctors and lawyers and on and on???

And what do we do if the girls continue to come out with better scores even after we have built all these separate but equal schools? Does that mean the rats are wrong?
Will we then have to change something to deter the females from succeeding at a greater rate than the boys?

Maybe girls, since they are no longer being told that they have to act dumb because boys don’t like smart girls or since they are being told they can be more than a housewife and mother are just taking advantage of opportunities that previously were offered primarily to boys? Or is that too simple an answer according to the rats and spatial rotation memory?

wundayatta's avatar

There are places where single sex schools are being split out, and single sex schools are being created. Similarly, other places, single sex schools are opening up to the other genders. It’s a flow back and forth.

Personally, I’m not advocating single sex schools; I’m just advocating more individualized education, attuned to the learning style of individual students, not just to boys or girls as a whole. I think we need to understand more about styles of learning, and become capable of—either within the classroom, or by dedicating single schools—providing education using the learning style that best fits the student.

One size does not fit all, and we need to make it easier for teachers to provide individualized education plans for all students. Teachers are doing their best, for the most part, but their burden is often too heavy to be able to customize their teaching methods to every student’s learning style. Also, in some cases, I’m not sure teachers are aware of the differences, nor aware of the options they have for relating to students with different learning styles.

CMaz's avatar

Is this really a question? (don’t want to sound rude) It is like saying is fire and water different?

wundayatta's avatar

@ChazMaz Clearly there are people for whom it is a question. Why are you surprised?

CMaz's avatar

Not really, but had to put it out there. :-)

zensky's avatar

Yes. 100%.

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