As long as I’m wearing my feminist hat today, here is a promising story for getting more women in STEM fields.

As long as I’m wearing my feminist hat today, here is a promising story for getting more women in STEM fields. Although it seems to me that assembling a horsie from 4 triangles should not be particularly challenging to anybody.

Originally shared by Matt Kuenzel

In matriarchal societies where women receive equal education, there is no difference in spatial abilities between men and women.

Women can be just as good as men at spatial tasks—assuming, of course, they get the same education. According to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, men and women in matriarchal societies where they receive equal education showed equal performance in spatial abilities. The findings suggest that better education in could narrow the gap between the sexes in engineering and technology careers, which require higher levels of spatial reasoning skills.

This entry was posted in Rajini Rao. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to As long as I’m wearing my feminist hat today, here is a promising story for getting more women in STEM fields.

  1. Rajini Rao says:


    I just read the original. FYI, the puzzle was a four-piece jigsaw of cubes, obviously homemade (FIg. 1). Fig. 2 was a simple bar graph plotting the time taken to solve the puzzle (needs a stopwatch). Finally, they incentivized the villagers with Rs. 20 each (~50 cents). Got to love this.

  2. Matt Kuenzel says:


    Rajini Rao Arg … I have to pay $10 to get the original paper. So, in your opinion, how believable is the result?

  3. Rajini Rao says:


    If you spend $10 on the paper, you will have outspent the science budget 🙂 There was only one experiment and only one data point. The difference between the two tribes was small, but believable (I don’t recall statistical significance documented in the bar graph). It comes down to good packaging of the story (they mention the Larry Summers incident..when he was Harvard President), something all of us scientists do. But it’s a feel good story, so it got published I guess. I wish the reviewers of our papers were as generous.

  4. Rajini Rao says:


    Ravi Shankar Vaidyanathan , I agree. I’m skeptical of their extrapolation from one very simple jigsaw puzzle to conclusions with big social significance. Also, the suspicious side of me wonders…if they took the effort of going all the way to some remote tribal region in India, surely they would have conducted more sophisticated and varied tests (perhaps they did and they don’t report them)? Good point on the 3-D problems. Does this foretell that my 12 yr old son who is on Minecraft all the time goes into a STEM field? Of course, like any good Asian mom, I’m also hoping that my daughter, who reads way too much miserable Russian literature, also becomes a scientist.

  5. Rajini Rao says:


    Peacock mom sounds good, I’m going with that. I’m not mean enough to be a real tiger mom..I mostly suck at that. The students in my lab call me an Asian mom, I will inform them that I now prefer Peacock (not peahen) mom. They will still have to jump through hoops and over a high bar, but now do it with confidence and flair. 🙂

  6. Matt Kuenzel says:


    Your children sound something like my son and daughter. Both are working in/studying computer science. I think that not everyone should necessarily go into STEM though, literature, for example, is a fascinating field of study. But to truly understand it you need to be older, maybe 40 and over, so it would be a good 2nd career.

  7. Martha E Fay says:


    I have already posted this to Matt Kuenzel . But I grew up with almost no visuospatial skills. My internal map of greater Boston – where I have spent more than 55 years is so bizarre, you wouldn’t believe it. I bump into doors, walls, furniture. If I walk, chew gum, and then pivot, I will lose my balance. As it is often put (at least in my generation), I have no map gene. On the other hand, I do have the spelling gene.


    One of my first mentees was a young woman who had played athletics all her life. (Part of the reason for this is that she was congenitally blind in one eye, so her father pushed her, not that she need much of a push. And as an aside her mother was not a big factor when it came to such issues.) She has what I used to call the map gene in exquisite detail (and the spelling gene, which seems unfair).


    Later, I learned that I had not crawled nor walked the way most children are expected to. I could do these things, but I was very asthmatic, and that close to the ground, you are assaulted with all kinds of allergens not to mention exercise-induced asthma. Talking about this with my young friend (now a life-long friend), and with some research, I realized that visuospatial abilities are formed very early and can be learned in early childhood if missed in infancy – but at some point, perhaps puberty – you are all done.


    OK Rajini fine. A data point of one, and anecdotal at that. But I do think that visuospatial abilities are not sex-linked (at least not entirely) but rather have very much to do with what a baby can or is allowed to do.

  8. Martha E Fay says:


    And, a small addendum: Geez, I can be verbose.

  9. Rajini Rao says:


    Martha E Fay , to all these eccentricities that make us who we are, I say vive la différence!

  10. Martha E Fay says:


    Just one more thing – two tribes, right? with different child-rearing customs? (Obviously I haven’t read the paper yet.) Such an experiment is not exactly 2 data points. It is, I will grant, an ecological study which many “hard” scientists will interpret as 2 data points. But there are a lot of new & valid statistical techniques that can take us beyond the so-called ecological fallacy.


    That said, I will try to shut up until I read the article.

  11. Martha E Fay says:


    Rajini Rao Oh, you will love my bibliography.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s