Wednesday, May 23, 2007

'School success at your fingertips'

What do you make of this article? (It's pretty short) How does one go about measuring their fingers? If I look at my palms then my index finger and ring finger are about the same size! Then what? I mean is there any truth in the research?

Obviously the test has been performed on seven year olds, but nowadays tests and their results seem to be getting weirder and weirder. This is an unusual theory, but can you link it to the gender 'war' of why more girls don't tend to do maths ...? I mean one can research whatever they want- but until my biology teacher confirms this for me, 'Scientists reckon their findings are caused by different levels of hormones, called testosterone and oestrogen, and the effect they have on the way our brains develop and fingers grow.' I'm in serious doubt.

(I consider myself, in terms of my A levels, 1/7 of a Biologist, and since I've always liked biology I wouldn't mind hearing more!)

EDIT: I should have checked the bbc site first, before newsround that is! (a slightly longer article can be found at that link.)

*OK, you've figured it out- I can't revise. :\ Although today someone pointed out to me, that my headaches could be a result of my back pains and poor posture! Heard some good news today, which has made me happy though. :D


Jake said...

The interesting things as far as I see it are as follows:

The research was conducted by psychologists; not genetecists or biologists. The sample size was only 75 children.

I would be very interested to know
a) how strong the correlation was
b) If there is a theoretical link between testosterone and oestrogen and relative finger size and numeracy and literacy.

With regards to the children's site...I don't like the way they gave very little information about the study and then presented a voting box asking whether you agreed or disagreed. How is one supposed to make a decision based on such little information? What basis were you given to decide the merit of the study?

With regard to the point about less women entering maths - I think that is more of a social issue and I doubt that genetics/hormone levels would play a part in that. I think the proportion of women in maths has been steadily rising for a while.
Ian Stewart commented that half of his PhD students were woman and that many of them were from Portugal where it is more common for women to go into mathematics.

beans said...

I hadn't actually noticed that (i.e. the psychologist thing) and like you say it would be interesting to see a link in larger sample size, and maybe a different sample? (adults?)

I don't think that oestrogen and testostrone are terms which are familar to many kids. (say primary school kids) so maybe they're not really concerned by the boxes result? I was actually made aware of the article by Po, and later on saw the bbc one.

I rather naively made the comment about girls and maths, I must admit. Just seemed the natural thing that stuck out. I do believe that social aspects do play a major role, but if this research was to widen it's net, maybe genetics could say something? I don't really know what I'm getting at, but the number of girls doing maths may be due to social reasons, but 'mathematical ability' could be down to hormones?

(Although like I said, the finger issue seems a bit 'dodgy' to me!) Hmmm, it seems like I'm going in circles! So a final word- for the arguement about why fewer girls study maths at a higher level- I agree it's to do with social aspects. :)

(that wasn't too hard to say was it!)

Jake said...

I don't think that oestrogen and testostrone are terms which are familar to many kids. (say primary school kids) so maybe they're not really concerned by the boxes result?

I just think it is a bad example to set: i.e. "here is barely any information - do you agree with it or disagree?"

Shouldn't we teach kids to make decisions based on information rather than on pure speculation?