brain science and myths about learning Pragmatic Mom PragmaticMom education matters

Boys Not Better at Math and Science

Are Boys Better at Math? One word: NO!

It is nice to know that these commonly held beliefs are just myths, now debunked by research:

 Myth #1A child is either right-brained or left-brained.

• Myth #2: Girls are better at reading, boys at math and science.

• Myth #3: People can’t learn a new language after a certain critical period.

So there is no excuse to not go out and learn a new language! What other learning myths have you heard of? What do you think of this research? Does it ring true to you?


Myth #1: A child is either right-brained or left-brained. This is “simply not true,” say the authors. Yes, certain hemispheres play a larger role in certain functions (e.g., the left side handles many speech functions in most people), but “all complex learning tasks involve a widely distributed network of brain areas.” The right-brain/left-brain myth has been particularly harmful because it’s led many parents and educators to lower their expectations for some children because they are thought to be immutably weaker in a particular area. “It’s wrong to imply that strengths and weaknesses come from the dominance of one hemisphere and are resistant to good teaching and learning,” they say. “Profiles of strengths and weaknesses are much more complex than simple hemispheric dominance, and they’re malleable because the brain is remarkably flexible and adaptive.”

• Myth #2: Girls are better at reading, boys at math and science. Nonsense, say Fischer, Worden, and Hinton: “Girls show a small advantage in language on average, but many boys are better at language than most girls. Boys show a small advantage in spatial reasoning on average, but many girls are better at spatial reasoning than most boys. No neuroscientific data suggest that boys’ brains are better suited to any given domain or subject or vice versa… Individual differences in talents certainly exist, and every student has a profile of strengths and weaknesses, but no evidence suggests that these profiles are biologically limited by gender.”

• Myth #3: People can’t learn a new language after a certain critical period. Not true, say the authors. There’s no evidence that there is a critical period for academic skills such as learning a foreign language. The reason is the remarkable plasticity of the brain throughout life. There are sensitive periods for certain aspects of language learning – “windows of opportunity” within which people can acquire a certain ability most easily and efficiently – for example, infants’ ability to recognize and distinguish phonemes across multiple languages, which fades when they hear one language and unused neurons are pruned in their brains. But there’s no reason that adults can’t learn a new language and acquire an almost native accent. In our interconnected global economy, say the authors, it’s more and more important for people to master more than one language: “If American students are to be successful, educators and parents must have clear expectations regarding students’ language acquisition based on evidence, not neuromyths.”

What Does the Brain Have to Do with Learning?” by Jennifer Worden, Christina Hinton, and Kurt Fischer in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2011 (Vol. 92, #8, p. 8-13).

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Science Fun on Pinterest.

Follow PragmaticMom’s board Math Fun on Pinterest.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. glad to hear that #3 isn’t true, I learned to speak Spanish fluently in college when I lived in Mexico. I always wondered if I was the only exception to the rule —

  2. Ann

    Love this! I never believed these myths! I was a girl who excelled at math & science (and art) in school because of my dyslexia but as an adult I was determined to become a reader and not live with those limits! Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Great article.

    I am like Melissa on the language. I learned Serbian and English form birth and they both seemed natural to speak. Then in high school it was spanish which initially seemed forced having to think about how to speak. Going to Spain for 1 week really changed that. So living the language helps!

    And like Ann in that I excelled in science and math!


    • To Rajka,
      Wow, you are tri-lingual! I wish my kids and I could get immersion in Spanish. I think that is the best way to learn–living in that country. Will have to figure out a way to pull it off.

      And I agree that girls, like you and Ann, have the same natural aptitude in math and science as boys. I think this skill is also acquired through natural curiosity and practice.

      I’m glad you liked the article. After that t-shirt thing (Sears t-shirt for girls that said “I’m too cute to do homework” I really wanted to post this!!)

  4. I would have to say more like 2 1/2 lingual! My Spanish has fallen on the wayside although I had a nice (brief) chat in Spanish with a gentleman from Ecuador yesterday!

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge