Women and maths – the effect of stereotyping

18 11 2010

My attention was recently drawn to this fascinating study conducted over a decade ago now, although its findings seem to have been largely ignored.

The study at the University of Michigan, first looked at psychology students with fairly high levels of maths knowledge and skills. It was discovered that males outperformed females at difficult tests, whilst there was no difference in easier tests.

In the second part of the study, a 2 part test was conducted where half the participants were told that the questions in the first half were shown to produce gender differences, but the second half was not, and half the participants were told it was the other way around. Interestingly, the investigators discovered that where a gender difference was expected by participants, one existed, but was eliminated when they were not expecting an effect of gender.

These results were replicated in a less highly selected sample of students.

What I find most interesting is how this information is being used now, in the UK. If this ‘stereotype threat’ has the potential to impact upon performance in exams, how is this translating to the classroom. Could it that the reports every year that girls do better in school exams than boys may in fact be a self-fulfilling prophecy?



29 03 2010

Ok, ok, I’m starting to become obsessed! Just wanted to use the current discussions (/fiasco)on t’internet as a platform for telling you about syphilis.

As a med student, syphilis is one of those ‘go to’ conditions. It literally seems to cause everything! It is refered to amongst doctors as one of the “Great imitators” – a disease that can trick health professionals into thinking they are something else. But what actually is it?

Well, it’s part of a groovy subgroup of bacteria [edit:just for dom] called spirocaetes, that is mostly passed on through sexual contact. Wikipedia amusingly notes  that syphilis “had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. In addition, the Dutch called it the “Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “Polish disease”, the Turks called it the “Christian disease” or “Frank disease” (frengi) and the Tahitians called it the “British disease”.” Doesn’t that make you proud, fellow Brits?!

So what does it do to you?

Well the first stage (primary syphilis) is probably what you’d think of as being syphilis. Painless lesions develop, which ulcerate to form ‘syphilitic chancres’, which normally heal after a few weeks. They are highly infectious sores that normally appear around genitals.

Secondary symptoms, such as a fever, skin rash and sore throat, then develop, despite the body already having mounted an immune response to the disease! 

Tertiary syphilis. At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body. It affects many tissues of the body, such as the bone, skin and mucosal surfaces, and can go on to affect important body systems like nerves and the heart.

But for such a potentially destructive disease, treatment couldn’t be more straight forward. Penicillin. An antibiotic we’ve known about for the best part of 100 years.

Syphilis is still in relatively small numbers in the UK, although the recent news reports suggest that this may be changing. Still, if you’re worried that you might have this, or any other sexually transmitted disease (STD), please got to your local GUM clinic, or have a chat to your doctor. Remember that some STDs may not have any symptoms.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Many diseases can be tested for with simple, painless tests, and treated effectively.

J x

Dear news media…

25 03 2010

Sadly, not my own!

Still ever so funny though!!