Men think they're smarter than they are, so they study science, says researcher

Technically Incorrect: A Washington State University study suggests men overestimate their brains, while women are quite accurate. This may lead more men to study math and science than women.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Do males just think more of their math skills? ABC News/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Has someone ever called you "too clever by half?"

I only ask because if you're a man, it might merely be that you're actually half as clever as you think you are. However, because you think you're clever, you trundle off to study math and science.

"But you don't know me!" you plead.

I sniff at you and say that I've just read of a study that says men overestimate their intelligence and this may be why they waft into scientific study.

The study is titled "Gender Gaps in Overestimation of Math Performance" and comes out of Washington State University. Shane Bench and his cohorts performed two separate pieces of research in which they asked men and women to take a math test and then guess how well they'd done.

During the first study, involving 122 people, the guinea pigs were actually told their true scores and then asked to take another test. During the second, in which 184 took part, there was no information offered about how they'd done.

You will be stunned into considering your own self-worth (if you're a man) when I tell you that the men consistently thought they'd done better than they had. The women, on the other hand, seemed to have a fine grasp of their abilities.

Unless, that is, they had significantly positive experiences with math. In that case, they had equally and overly elevated views of their math skills. That effect didn't last when they were given their true scores.

There was another kink to the second study. The participants, who happened to be undergraduates (in both studies), were also asked what field of study they were going to pursue. You got there already, didn't you?

The report offers this quote: "Gender gaps in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields are not necessarily the result of women's underestimating their abilities, but rather may be due to men's overestimating their abilities."

If this study contains some truth, I wonder how much influence the general American parenting strategy of telling their kids they're so wonderful contributes. Do parents more regularly tell their male offspring how clever they are than they tell their daughters?

The report is clear in stating: "This gender difference in positivity bias partially accounted for men's greater intent to pursue math courses and careers relative to women."

Bench interprets these results as showing the potential need for what he calls "positive illusions." If you kid yourself just enough, the argument goes, you might well continue to pursue scientific studies, even if your initial results aren't too good.

We all spend our lives kidding ourselves about a lot of things. Reality, in fact, can be a horrible intrusion on the psyche.

This study suggests that if you believe in yourself just enough, you have a good chance of countering what the scientists call "Stereotype Threat."

I have some spare Golden State Warriors 2007 "We Believe" T-shirts, if you'd like to borrow them.

(Via Science Daily)