Being Narrow While Being Broad: The Importance
of Construct Specificity and Theoretical Generality
Kristin A. Lane
Published online: 18 October 2011
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Abstract This article considers Gunderson et al.’s(2011)
analysis of the intergenerational transmission of mathemat-
ics attitudes in light of broader knowledge about the nature
of attitudes. It makes two primary points. First, many of the
constructs that Gunderson et al. include under the umbrella
of “attitude” are theoretically and psychometrically distinct.
Researchers who follow the agenda laid out by Gunderson
et al. should take care to carefully define their constructs.
Second, using the literature on the intergenerational
transmission of implicit attitudes as a starting point, this
commentary explores specific ways in which children’s
mathematics attitudes may arise as a function of their
parents’ and teachers’ attitudes.
Keywords Mathematics attitudes
Men pursue mathematics more than women at almost all
stages of education and achievement (Snyder et al. 2008;
National Science Foundation 2008). At the same time, the
gap in performance between men and women on standard-
ized measures of mathematics in the United States has
narrowed in the past several decades (Hyde et al. 2008).
Efforts to understand the disconnect between the relative
gender parity on measures of mathematics and science
achievement on one hand, and the gender gap in mathemat-
ics and science engagement on the other, have been robust.
Explanations range from sex differences in brain morphol-
ogy (Gur et al. 1999) to gender differences in expectations
for success in mathematics and science, and value placed on
these fields (Simpkins et al. 2006).
In the target article, Gunderson et al. (2011) focus on
young children’s mathematics attitudes, beliefs, and identi-
ties, starting with the assumption that early formation of
these dispositions toward mathematics “sets the stage for
lifelong behavioral and attitudinal patterns” (this issue).
Their primary interest is in the role of parents and teachers
on children’s mathematics-related orientations. Their goal
of establishing directions for future research that build on
the extant literature is important—as they note, such work
will not only add to the academic literature, but may “lead
to the development of practical interventions … that ensure
that all students are provided with opportunities to excel in
math” (this issue). Inspired by Lewin’s(1952)often-
repeated reminder that “there is nothing more practical
than a good theory” (p. 169), this commentary considers
how the broader attitudinal literature can inform Gunderson
I gave my job talk at my current institution, I
noted in passing that I am a fan of the baseball team the
New York Mets, and also mentioned that I am from the
Bronx, New York. At dinner, a search committee member
asked a pressing question: How had I grown up in the
Bronx, which serves as the home of the New York Yankees
baseball team, and become a fan of their rival team? The
answer was simple: My father was an ardent Mets fan, and
his mother had rooted for the often-hapless team before
that. In short, both my father and I learned to be Mets fans
from the adults around us.
While the target article (Gunderson et al. 2011) takes a
singular focus on mathematics-related cognitions and feel-
ings, this anecdote illustrates that attitudes and beliefs about
K. A. Lane (*)
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, USA
Sex Roles (2012) 66:167–174