Gender and cognitive abilities, and emotion | Psych 3006 | Walden University

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Gender  and Cognitive Abilities, and Emotion

Are males smarter than females or is the opposite true? And are boys really better at math than girls? If you base your answer on the number of male versus female engineers or mathematicians, you might answer “yes.” However, the real question that needs to be addressed is this: Are there really biological differences in the brains of males and females when it comes to intelligence and cognitive ability or does society’s stereotyping create differences in behaviors that look like true differences? And, is this just prevalent in Western society, or are boys seemingly better at math in countries other than the United States, as well? This week begins with an exploration of the differences in intelligence and cognitive abilities between males and females, looking at the research on 1) whether there are differences, 2) what might be the causes of the differences, and 3) what impact differences or perceived differences might have on society.

In addition to looking at gender differences with regard to intelligence and cognitive abilities, this week you also will explore the differences between males and females in how each feels and expresses emotion. Think about the professional situation in which a female executive is bullied in a business meeting and begins to cry. Are females just weaker when it comes to emotions? Are they less professional? Do males have a higher resistance to anger or frustration? Or, do males just not express these emotions in tears? These are some of the questions on the table this week.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Explain the impact of gender stereotyping of cognitive abilities
  • Analyze gender differences in the feeling and expression of emotion
  • Apply concepts, principles, and processes related to gender as it relates to intelligence, cognitive ability, and emotions

Photo Credit: tuncaycetin / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Learning Resources

Required Readings

Brannon, L. (2017). Gender:  Psychological perspectives (7th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Chapter 7, “Intelligence and Cognitive Abilities” (pp. 170-192)
Chapter 8, “Emotion” (pp. 201-225)

Garrett-Peters, P. T., & Fox, N. A. (2007). Cross-cultural differences in children’s emotional reactions to a disappointing situation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31(2), 161–169. doi:10.1177/0165025407074627
Note: You will access this article from the Walden Library databases.       

Shapiro, J. R., & Williams, A. M. (2012). The role of stereotype threats in undermining girls’ and women’s performance and interest in STEM fields. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 175–183. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0051-0
Note: You will access this article from the Walden Library databases.

Voyer, D., & Voyer, S. D. (2014). Gender differences in scholastic achievement: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1174–1204. doi:10.1037/a0036620
Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-a0036620.pdf

Discussion: Gender Intelligence and Cognitive Abilities

For centuries, it has been assumed that men and women are different when it comes to certain cognitive abilities, and even intelligence itself. For example, men have been stereotyped as better at spatial abilities (such as, the abilities used in video games) and women have been stereotyped as better at verbal abilities (such as, the abilities used in communicating.) However, recent research is blurry when it comes to definitively stating that one gender is better at a specific cognitive ability than the other. Some intelligence and cognitive ability assessments suggest gender differences; however, it is still to be determined if the findings really do show that there are differences in cognitive abilities and intelligence or if there are other factors at play, including testing flaws, interpretation bias, and cultural or environmental influencers.

Take video game playing as an example. The poster child for video games has traditionally been the 17-year-old boy. Since more boys than girls have usually played video games, society has assumed that boys are better at the associated visual abilities. However, there may be other factors at play. For example, video games in the past typically featured male-related topics, such as blowing up things, fighting wars, and dominating women. The characters in these games were predominately male and the stories were based around males rescuing damsels in distress (except for the occasional female superhero.) More recent game developers have changed their tactics. Game topics have changed. Female characters and the ability to customize characters have increased. Online access has improved the social aspect of games. The result is that females now make up close to half of video game players.

So, do you really know if boys are better at the visual and spatial skills required for video games or are the games just designed for boys? Though video game playing is just one simple example, these types of questions are important when exploring the research and stereotypes related to gender differences in cognitive abilities and intelligence.

As you read and think about gender differences in intelligence and cognitive abilities, consider the following:

Could it be that the ways in which males and females are raised impacts their self-confidence and subsequent success or failure on intelligence and cognitive ability assessments? If you are a female and constantly hear that girls are not that great in math, is it possible that you behave accordingly? Perhaps “knowing” that girls are not good at math has discouraged girls from taking higher math courses in school and from pursuing careers involving math abilities.

Could it be that boys are raised to throw balls from a very early age which, in turn, develops their spatial and visual abilities over girls? Then, when they are assessed in these abilities, could it be that they score higher than females only because they have had more practice rather than a better innate ability? Could it be that there has been a gender prejudice over the past decades that led to the actual assessments themselves being biased?

Are the differences in cognitive abilities the same for every culture? For example, are females in Western cultures different in their math abilities than females in Eastern cultures? Are they stereotyped differently?

Could the male brain and the female brain be so different that there truly are significant differences in cognitive abilities?

The research is inconclusive. Many studies suggest that there are differences in cognitive abilities between the genders while others show that the differences are minimal, if they exist at all. Perhaps the more significant question is, “How do the perceived or real differences impact individuals and society?” And, “Are these perceived or real differences ultimately changing society?” These questions may be the more important issues in social psychology.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review Chapter 7 in the course text, Gender: Psychological Perspectives. Focus both on what the various studies and assessment results say about gender differences in specific cognitive abilities, as well as potential factors that might influence these differences.
  • Review the articles, “The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Women’s Performance and Interest in STEM Fields”, and “Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis.” 
  • Identify one cognitive ability that is stereotypically different in males and females. Think about its importance in the world (i.e., education, industry, home life, etc.). Also, think about how the stereotyping of this cognitive ability impacts individuals and society as a whole.

With these thoughts in mind:

By Day 3

Post a description of the cognitive ability you selected and how it is stereotyped by gender and influenced by culture. Then, explain the importance and use of this cognitive ability in the world (education, industry or business, home life, etc.); and how the stereotyping of it affects individuals and society as a whole. Finish your post by discussing whether you think nature or nurture is the cause of this perceived gender difference.

Note: Put the cognitive ability you selected in the first line of your post. You will be asked to respond to a colleague who selected a different cognitive ability than you did.

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