Popular belief tends to paint boys as math and science wizards and girls as language masters. However, new research from China suggests that girls are actually better in math because of their superior verbal skills. According to the study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, arithmetic in particular requires verbal processing, which puts girls at an advantage.

In the study, researchers examined children from the ages of eight to 11 who were enrolled in 12 different primary schools in and around Beijing. Results revealed that girls were actually better at arithmetic, specifically in simple subtraction, multiplication, and numerosity comparison. They were also better at recognizing numbers with higher values and and at completing number sequences. Boys, on the other hand, seemed to perform better at rotating three-dimensional figures mentally.

What girls have over boys are their verbal skills—their ability to tell which word rhymes best with another being one of them. "Arithmetic and even advanced math needs verbal processing," says Xinlin Zhou of Beijing Normal University, co-author of the study. After all, counting is verbal. So is committing the multiplication table to memory.

The results, however, are not meant to create disparity between boys and girls in the classroom. They are meant to help close the learning gap instead. Girls can improve on their spatial skills, while boys can work on their verbal skills. With this knowledge, teachers and parents can address the learning problems their students encounter more proactively.


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(Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr Creative Commons)

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