Researchers from University of Missouri found that boys show preference for solving arithmetic problems by reciting an answer from memory, whereas girls were more likely to compute the answer by counting.
The study found that girls and boys started grade school with different approaches to solving arithmetic problems, with girls favouring a slow and accurate approach and boys a faster but more error prone approach.
The approach by girls gave them an early advantage, but by the end of sixth grade boys had surpassed the girls.
"The observed difference in arithmetic accuracy between the sexes may arise from the willingness to risk being wrong by answering from memory before one is sure of the correct answer," said Drew Bailey from the university.
"In our study, we found that boys were more likely to call out answers than girls, even though they were less accurate early in school. Over time, though, this practice at remembering answers may have allowed boys to surpass girls in
accuracy," Bailey said in a University statement.
The study followed 300 children as they progressed from first to sixth grade. In the first and second grades, the boys' tendency to give an answer quickly led to more answers in total, but also more wrong answers.
Girls, on the other hand, were right more often, but responded more slowly and to fewer questions. By sixth grade, the boys were answering more problems and getting more correct."Developing mathematical skill may be part 'practice makes perfect' and part 'perfect makes practice,” Bailey said.
"Attempting more answers from memory gives risk-takers more practice, which may eventually lead to improvements in accuracy. It also is possible that children who are skilled at certain strategies are more likely to use them and therefore acquire more practice," he said.
"Parents can give their children an advantage by making them comfortable with numbers and basic math before they start grade school, so that the children will have fewer trepidations about calling out answers," said David Geary,
co-author of the study.
"As an adult, it seems easy to remember basic math facts, but in children's brains the networks are still forming. It could be that trying to answer a problem from memory engages those networks and improves them, even if the answers aren't correct at first. In time, the brain develops improved memories and more correct answers result," he added.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.