Exploring Behavior: Research on Gender Differences

Scientists who study behavior have long been interested in the differences between men and women. What are the differences in behavior between men and women? Why do these differences occur? Are they learned or innate? While many people have preconceived ideas about how people of different genders behave, recognizing and quantifying these differences scientifically can be tricky.

Listen to these podcasts from Science Update on three studies exploring differences in behavior between men and women:

The Talkative Men episode explores how a widely cited scientific factoid is likely untrue: a popular book on psychology claimed that women said 20,000 words per day while men said only 7,000. This factoid was quickly adopted and shared, perhaps because it confirms the stereotype that women are more talkative. However, new studies show that there is no significant difference in talkativeness between men and women. Examples like this should warn us of how quickly misinformation can spread, especially if it sounds like it might be true.

Sex Ratio & Spending discusses a study that was inspired by research on animals that shows that males are more competitive when females are scarcer. This study was conducted on human males and measured how financially impulsive they were after seeing photo arrays of mostly men or mostly women; it showed that financial impulsivity was indeed correlated with seeing mostly men in the photo arrays. This study supports what's observed in non-human animals, but more research is needed to prove a stronger link.

Finally, Teaching Math Anxiety explores how teachers' attitudes about mathematics can influence their students' views. This study showed that girls who have female teachers with high levels of "math anxiety" absorb the idea that women are innately worse at math. The researchers point out that because many K–12 teachers are female, intervening to help curb math anxiety in teachers may be an important step in combating the gender achievement gap in STEM.

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