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Girls and Boys – Why Do We Learn So Differently?

Guest post by Katie Parsons

Women who experience great levels of success are entirely too familiar with the old song and dance.  Even when women push their limits and don’t give up, they’re at a distinct disadvantage in male-dominated professions and are often underestimated, underutilized and receive paychecks that are less than what they deserve. 

Studies show that women must perform at grossly higher levels to appear just moderately competent in comparison to male counterparts.  In fact, women make more than men in only seven occupations in the U.S.

Along with these outside obstacles, so many women are fighting a battle – with themselves.  Smart and Picture1talented women need to clear this hurdle in order to maximize their success.  Women owned businesses struggle to grow, but what are the solutions to end this problem? Let’s take a step back and evaluate where this all begins:

A study performed in the 1980s by psychologist Carol Dweck took a look at how fifth graders handled challenging new material.  She found that girls who were presented with the foreign material were more likely to throw in the towel than boys.  In fact, the higher the girl’s IQ, the more likely she would give up and respond with pure helplessness.  Boys showed a remarkably different response – they viewed this new and difficult material as a challenge and it gave them vigor to put in greater effort leading to success.  

So why does this happen?  Why are bright girls less confident when they should be full of confidence?  While there were no differences in ability – in fact girls routinely outperform boys at the fifth grade level – the difference lies in the ways in which bright girls and boys interpret material.  Girls immediately doubt their ability and lose confidence and as a direct result, become less effective learners.  Girls feel their abilities are innate while boys believe they can gain greater ability through practice.

How do they develop such different views? Likely it is a reflection of the feedback children receive from parents and teachers at a young age.  Girls who develop self-control early and follow instructions well receive praises for their good behavior. They’re called “smart” or “good students” when they experience school success.  This praise implies traits like “goodness” and “smartness” are qualities you either possess or you don’t.

Boys at a young age are a handful and a challenge to their caretakers.  They have a harder time sitting still and concentrating and as a result, are told by parents and educators that if they simply pay attention and try harder, they’ll understand and succeed.  The result?  When children are faced with a daunting new task, girls take it as a sign they aren’t “smart” while boys take it as a sign to concentrate and try harder.

As a result of all this, women carry on these beliefs subconsciously throughout their lives.  Girls continue to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable and blossom into women who are far too critical of themselves and think that they don’t possess what it takes to succeed in a specific arena – and give up far too soon.

We need to work hard to rid ourselves of these disadvantages: inequalities, stereotypes, challenges of balancing work and family and other obstacles that prevent women from great success.  Underneath it all, women need to quit being their own worst enemy. 

Remember that you can reach your goals.  Ladies, abilities are not innate and unchangeable.  All abilities – from creativity, self-control and even athleticism – can be learned.  The human brain is remarkably malleable. Persistence does pay off when it comes to mastering skills.  So toss aside your notion of how ability works, reclaim your confidence and embrace the fact that you can always improve.

How often do you find yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe?  Do you make goals that are easy to reach out of fear of making a lofty goal you struggle to attain?

Katie Parsons is a part-time writer for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes in business news affecting major markets in the U.S. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. She is also the administrator for a community blog for moms.

 Photo via eduguide.org


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Divya Narang

Women are always thought to be better managers. The things that a woman can manage are difficult for a man to handle. Economic Independence/Empowerment of Women is equally important.

Donald U. Phillips

That is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise information… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!

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