Boys exhibit tendency to solve arithmetic problems by reciting an answer from memory, while girls are more liable to compute the answer by counting, aver scientists.
In a University of Missouri study, 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.
Girls' approach 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," Drew Bailey said.
"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.
The MU study followed approximately 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," she said.
The study has been published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.