Research says "mathematics anxiety" higher in girls than boys

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COLUMBIA - A team of psychologists has determined girls exhibit more "mathematics anxiety" than boys.

Psychologists from the University of Missouri, University of California-Irvine and the University of Glasgow in Scotland worked together on the analysis.

The study focused on 60 countries around the world (including the United States), and said despite policies and programs, girls are apprehensive to math and STEM fields.

Thomas Hart Benton School STEM Specialist Heather McCullar said this is a topic that has been getting more attention.

"I think just recently we started to look at girls and minorities in STEM fields, so it's become more of a popular topic and people are looking into it more," McCullar said.  "At the elementary level we see that not a lot of younger kids are exposed to STEM fields, especially when it comes to girls. A lot of the products aren't promoted towards them, they aren't introduced to those fields, they don't interact with people in STEM fields, so it really comes down to exposure at the younger levels."

First grade teacher Meredith Erikson also said girls aren't necessarily exposed to some of same things boys are that can help stimulate a desire to work in a STEM field at a young age.

"When it comes to math and engineering I just think it's not in our society to have girls be involved in that and just between our culture and society they're not exposed to the LEGOS or the investigation or the critical thinking as much as boys, I feel like."

Erikson said societal norms can play an influential role in discouraging girls from STEM careers.

"In society a teacher is usually a woman, in my mind, and a nurse is usually a woman, and in my mind that's how it relates to the STEM process, because that's not the case at all. I think that's a barrier on why it will affect girls."

McCullar also said she has seen how a STEM education can help make girls more comfortable with topics like engineering and math.

 "We do a LEGO robotics club, and when we first started it it was mostly boys, maybe one ore two girls," McCullar said. "So we decided to start a girls team and a boys team, and after our first year we actually had to start a second girls team because we had so many girls that were interested in participating."