Sunday, November 2, 2008

Women and Math (and anyone in pressure situations)

OK, I went to an amazing talk the other night at DePaul. The talk was by
Dr. Sian Beilock from U of Chicago

She studies the psychology of skilled performance as well as failure. Why would we fail when the stakes are high? Her talk was very scientific. Here is a summary:

1. We need "working memory" to solve problems. Working memory is basically RAM

2. If we're worrying then this takes up a lot of RAM and we can't solve the problem as fast or as correctly.

3. In the lab, it has been shown that just mentioning something like "we are running this test to study gender differences in mathematics performance"... or something like that can cause women's test scores in math to drop significantly.

The talk was really a lot more complicated than my summary. If you ever get a chance to here this professor give a talk, I would highly recommend it.

However, for me, this has really some practical hints. Basically, I am now noticing how much I worry and "ruminate" when trying to solve problems under pressure or even just in public. Getting rid of any "inner monologue" has become something I am working to diminish after hearing this talk. I always knew it was not helpful but I had no idea how much it really can hurt your problem solving results until I heard this talk.

This does not just effect women, but also it is the same thing (most likely) for anyone who has inner monologues that are unhelpful during pressure situations. What is unique to women is that just mentioning "gender differences" before a math test seems to create an unhelpful inner monologue that takes up much needed working memory.

1 comment:

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