First things first: this is not a blog arguing that girls are smarter than boys. That’s just not true. Researchers have not found that either gender has better overall cognitive abilities. This blog has to do with gender differences in study habits, and is not a “girls rule, boys drool” argument at all. Okay, now that we’re back on track: At Andrew’s review session for Test 2, there were about 10-12 girls there and no guys. I remembered the picture of the first review session also only had girls. Someone commented on this and Andrew said that this was usually how it went: girls went to the review sessions more often, while guys tended to procrastinate more on the blogs and on test preparation. I wondered if this was just a coincidence or if there was any scientific validity to this study habit trend. Here’s what I found:
In “Problem-Solving Appraisal, Self-Reported Study Habits…,” (*PSA: this is the Google Scholar link, there isn’t a direct hyperlink to the study. It automatically downloads when you click on links from the search*) the researchers used the PSI survey to assess problem-solving abilities of college students, and the SSHA survey to determine their study habits. Though both are self-reporting methods, they’re considered credible. Researchers then used these results, students’ ACT scores, and their current GPA to create a composite score. First, the study found that study habits have a high correlation to academic performance. But second and more interesting, it found that female students had a higher mean score (meaning better study habits and grades) than males. With p-values less than 0.007, the study found that gender was significantly related to the grade a student received in a class, accounting for 11% of variance in scores. 11% acknowledges that there are certainly other factors in grades, but gender does play a role.
To make sure this wasn’t an outlier study, I searched more and found two other studies. Both “A Survey of Student Study Habits…” and “Relationship between Study Habits and Academic Achievement…” noted that #1 there was a significant positive relationship between study habits and grades, and #2 that females tended to have better study habits. All of these studies considered test scores, concentration levels, note taking, time management, reading comprehension, and memory when determining what “good study habits” look like. So if in general girls tend to have better study habits, my next question is why?
Part could be gender differences in cognitive development and characteristics. Female brains tend to mature about 1-2 years faster than male brains, with the biggest differences during teen years. This matters for the prefrontal cortex (frontal lobe or PFC). The PFC is the executive functions section of the brain, dealing with decision-making, planning, problem solving, judgment, impulse control, and more–integral functions for the study habits mentioned. Since female brains (and PFCs) mature faster than male brains, that could explain some differences. But still, that 1-2 year gap is made up quickly and can’t explain everything.
According to a 2001 Harvard study, female frontal lobes (even after body height/weight adjustments were accounted for) were larger than male frontal lobes. Additionally, female brains have more “white matter” than male brains. White matter consists of the parts of the brain that make neuronal connections; like this article says, it’s kind of like the brain’s subway system to the different grey matter areas. This means that in general women can make faster neurological connections.
Even if the brain component explains part of it, here’s another part to consider: society. This article discusses like many others how girls tend to outperform boys in reading and writing subjects at many different age stages. Some of this could be due to a cognitive predisposition, but another part could be that young boys are encouraged by society to be more physically active, and tend to read less. This aversion to reading can stick with boys long term. When school becomes more about reading, writing, and critical thinking (as college often does), this could explain why men are being accepted to and graduating from universities and colleges at lower rates than women.
More experiments could be done to figure out why there’s a difference in study habits by measuring PFC related abilities, gauging social attitudes, and observing study habits on a given project/test. I also acknowledge there are other things going on here like gender priming. This article and this study do a good job of explaining and examining gender priming. Still, even with gender priming in STEM fields, women go to/graduate from universities more, and with higher grades.
Take home message: study habits are important and are linked to gender. This doesn’t mean boys can’t study well or perform well in college. Regardless of gender, if you are disinclined to studying, that could catch up with you. And for guys, maybe go to Andrew’s review sessions.