Myth: “I’m just not a math person.”

By | November 2, 2013

Math for you In an article from The Atlantic; Miles Kimbal and Noah Smith  expound on the subject of basic math skills. (and the myth of inborn math ability):   Basic ability in the subject isn’t the product of good genes, but hard work.

Quartz: “There’s one key difference between those who excel at math and those who don’t”

The authors discuss that the idea that math ability is mostly genetic is a single facet of an even larger fallacy that intelligence is mostly genetic (or inborn).

Kimbal and Smith discuss a pattern in which young students engage in destructive behavior:

“Again and again, we have seen the following pattern repeat itself:

  1. Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class. Some of these kids have parents who have drilled them on math from a young age, while others never had that kind of parental input.
  2. On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.
  3. The unprepared kids, not realizing that the top scorers were well-prepared, assume that genetic ability was what determined the performance differences. Deciding that they “just aren’t math people,” they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.
  4. The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.

Thus, people’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


The “entity orientation” that says “You are smart or not, end of story,” leads to bad outcomes—a result that has been confirmed by many other studies. (The relevance for math is shown by researchers at Oklahoma City who recently found that belief in inborn math ability may be responsible for much of the gender gap in mathematics.)


Further Reading:

Miles Kimbal’s blog entry

Noah Smith’s blog entry




Article Name
The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math'
In an article from The Atlantic; Miles Kimbal and Noah Smith discuss the Myth of math people and expound on the subject of basic math ability.

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