The law of the strongest

One of the purposes of the development of laws in democracies, is to prevent injustices that result from blind obedience to the law of the strongest, which is what happens when there is no law at all. Unfortunately, the law is sometimes diverted from this purpose. This is the case of patriarchal societies, which institutionalize the right of the strongest (the male owner) over the weakest (women, children, slaves). This state of mind is also the one that governs our parasitic relationship to nature.

We say that the law of nature is the law of the strongest (“the law of the jungle”).
However, the cells that make up life are fragile bubbles that, by the complexity of their exchanges within their membrane, manage to survive in adversity. By helping one another, they have learned to survive and create complex structures that can reproduce and adapt in a constantly changing and sometimes dangerous environment.

Humanity itself has taken control of its environment as a weak, but intelligent animal, by helping one another. The human baby is probably the most vulnerable creature, she is both very sensitive and incapable of doing anything on her own. The human mother is more vulnerable than her male, while her importance in the genesis of the human being is immense.

Are these anomalies?
Have we understood what we believe to be the laws of nature?
Maybe it is trying to teach, in its own way, compassion, tenderness and mutual help, to the most intelligent and independent of its children?

Anyway, we certainly live under wrong paradigms, since we are devouring our own womb, nature, in order to satisfy our need for individual and immediate comfort.

The law of the strongest is part of our life paradigms. The strongest are men compared to women, the most numerous compared to the most isolated, the rich compared to the poor …
Using force is sometimes necessary to enforce the law, but it should not be the strongest that decides the law. But, even today in a democracy, it is often the case.

The corollary of the law of the strongest is blind submission. Indeed, when failing to be the strongest, and this is the case of a majority of people, at least in some situations, it is better to be submitted to the strongest, in order to survive. Most people favor obedience over empathy and moral, as Milgram’s experience shows (see below).

The effects of the law of the strongest and submission are multiple: use of scapegoats, oppression of women, misuse of religion to serve looting and patriarchy, lack of compassion in companies and governments, isolation of the most vulnerable (elderly, disabled, single mothers with modest incomes…), violence, a harmful vision of sex …

Unfortunately, these effects maintain the cause, because the fear they generate accentuates blind submission. It is a vicious circle.

If we characterize the level of evolution of a society as its ability to provide security and means to flourish for all, then we see that this capacity is directly correlated to the respect of the most vulnerable, including that of the mothers of humanity, women.

In every society, the degree of emancipation of women is the natural measure of general emancipation
(Charles Fourier)

The French Revolution did not change the condition of the people, neither did communist revolutions, nor decolonization or various “Arab Springs”.
Only feminist revolutions, without pouring blood, have brought about a profound and lasting evolution, a softening of social customs and a social justice probably unique in human history as we know it. This is particularly obvious if we compare today’s Western society with the most patriarchal ones, be they rich like Saudi Arabia or miserable like Somalia. Because oppression of women is the most primitive form of the law of the strongest. The woman is the final scapegoat in all forms of oppression.

The most oppressed man can oppress a being, who is his wife, she is the proletarian of the proletarian
(Flora Tristan)

To question the oppression of women thus undermines all other forms of oppression. This is why an analysis of the patriarchal model deserves a special attention.


The family model

Patriarchy is a family model that gives all power to the father. He decides on behalf of the family, he has all authority over his wife and children. His wife is his property, so what she produces too, including children.

The woman is our property, we are not her, for she gives us children, and the man does not give her any, so she is his property as the fruit tree is that of the gardener.
(Napoleon, Memorial of St. Helena, Chapter 12)

To ensure the power of the father, the most harshly patriarchal societies go as far as to subject all the possibilities of women to the permission of the father then the husband (right to work, to have a bank account, to travel …) or simply deny any possibility.
It is a total reversal of the original purpose of laws, since it is supposed to serve justice, including protecting the weakest from the abuses of the strongest.

Between the strong and the weak, between the rich and the poor, between the master and the servant, it is freedom that oppresses and laws that liberates.
(Henri Lacordaire)

This family model is directly derived from the law of the strongest, which it helps to maintain. This model contradicts nature itself, since it establishes a system of filiation by the male, while the umbilical cord binds the child to her mother.
The patriarchal system trains women to seduce men in order to survive, whereas in nature, males are vowed to seduce females.
It forces women to be sexually available to ensure the safety of her children, since marriage is intended to sexually bind a woman to a man.
It is also a family model that impairs solidarity between women, since women only survive by their husband, and therefore fear that another woman seduces him.


The religions of patriarchal cultures are consistent with this family model: God / Allah / Yavhé / Brahma, is an all-powerful creator, master of all destinies, who expects a perfect obedience. Obedience is equated with moral purity. The relationship of humanity to God is like the relationship of women to men, because humanity is generated by the woman, she is the primordial Earth of the child.

The principles that govern Abrahamic religions are just as unnatural. They write that the woman is born from a man’s rib, while nature tells us that every man is born from the womb of a woman. We speak to God using masculine pronouns and adjectives, while nature tells us that the one who gives life is female. Facts show us that crimes, rapes, tortures, destructions are committed mostly by men, but it is on a woman, Eve, that the Bible and the Torah put the weight of all sins of the world. Manu’s laws of Brahmanic Hinduism, and Islam, claim that man brings the “seed” that will give a child.

Woman is considered by law as field, and man as seed
(Manu’s Law, Book 9, paragraph 33)

However, the vegetable seed is an ovum which genome is joined with that of a male gamete, just like the first cell of the child.

Nature teaches us that life is born of the female, who happens to be more vulnerable than her male, in our specie. Maybe it didn’t happen randomly, maybe nature tries to teach us compassion?
Nature doesn’t write its Bible with words, it writes it with genes. The wisdom of nature is the results of millions of years of trials and errors, long before its human child wrote its first symbol.


The gender models used to educate children is directly derived from the patriarchal model. It does not take into consideration the welfare of the child, but simply the conformity, the “submission” to a model with perverse effects.

Toys teach girls seduction and domestic activities. The images of woman that serve them as role models are created by the pimps who govern the media. Girls learn early to see themselves as an object and not as a subject, as an assistant and not as a creator.

Toys teach boys to go to war, to build and to play as a team. The little boy learns that his vulnerability is subject to contempt, and this damages his ability to develop empathy. Because being aware of our vulnerability turns us towards others and teaches us solidarity and empathy.

Man learns a false courage in lies, because to think himself invulnerable is a lie.

Sometimes he thinks he is really superior, because he has built his self-image this way from early childhood, and lives very badly the fact of falling from his throne. Patriarchy has everything to seduce a man who does not know how to rise differently. In a completely patriarchal society, even the most incapable of men can feel like a king among women.

He learns that sex is an act of conquest of the male on the female, the male who enslaves, dirties and humiliates the female, while nature shows us that life emerges from the sex of the woman.

Military leaders sometimes say to their soldiers, to turn them into death machines: “you must kill the woman in you”.

The weaks are despised, hated. They are scapegoats. Men therefore fight with contempt for vulnerability, so as not to be a woman, whereas they should fight to protect the mother and the child. How can one be surprised when these “warriors” become looters and rapists of the conquered populations?

The relationship to nature

The damage that humanity is causing to nature is now well-known: poisoning of springs, rivers and oceans, sterilization of soils, extinction of species and forests, climatic upheavals, accumulation of radioactive waste with multi-millennial life …
Nature is enslaved, prostituted, devoured … Humanity uses and abuses Mother Nature as it does with its human mothers, women. Either of these forms of exploitation derive from the same unhealthy state of mind which led man to enthrone a God in his image, to the point of forgetting that the one who deserves our veneration is the one from who we are all born: Nature.

Milgram experience

The question of obedience to authority was the subject of an experiment by Milgram in 1963, according to the following protocol: subjects, with no judicial or psychiatric history, are instructed to deliver electric shocks to a person as soon as he fails to repeat a list of words correctly. They see at the beginning the person to be attached to a chair and receive electrodes, then they go into a separate room where is the device delivering the shocks. The intensity of the shocks must go up to grades described as dangerous.
In fact, the person receiving the electric shocks is an actor, but the subjects do not know it. He expresses his pain with cries and punches on the walls.
Maybe we would expect that a number of subjects would refuse to deliver shocks? In fact, all of them obeyed the instructor, and a majority (65%) went to the maximum intensity. Some complained to the instructor during the process, but when the instructor insisted, they executed his decision.
By varying the experimental conditions, Milgram notes that obedience is lower when the subjects see the victim, or when there is disagreement between instructors on the continuation of the experiment.

Milgram experiment 1963
Milgram experiment, 1963
Source: “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem Susan Nolen-Hoeksema


Let’s conclude this chapter with Jackson Katz’s passionate speech on Ted.
He points out that the same system that makes men oppress women is also the one that makes men oppress other men. He calls men to use their “peer culture” to make abusive men loose their status. He urges leaders to take a serious stand against violences toward women, not as a sign of “sensitivity”, but as the most courageous, intelligent and effective mean of leadership.

Role models

Children learn to interact with others by imitating their peers, particularly those who share similar characteristic, such as age or gender. Even fictive models are efficient. Role models can convince an individual that their abilities are limited. This is known as the “stereotype threat” and it has been experimentally observed. When it comes to gender prejudices, the effect of prejudices can be reduced when children learn that any competence can be developed, and that sex is determined by the genitals, instead of clothing or attitudes.

Observation and imitation

An individual and especially a child can model his behaviors through imitation (copying a model) and observation (general rules across multiple models) of people who belong to the same reference group. Observation and imitation can be considered as powerful agents of cultural transmissions.

Imitation is particularly done on a reference group (group the person belongs to, or wants to belong to). Children and teens discover values ​​and behaviors of their peers through family, school and media. Perception of the peers group is built around individuals who are used as a reference to define the group (Zavalloni, 1984, 1986).

Children's imitation of adult aggression
Children’s imitation of adult aggression
Source : “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

According to Cordua, Mac Graw & Drabman, 1979, models are more effective if they belong to real life rather than media. However, Bandura, in 1973, notes that observation of the aggressiveness of live model results in the imitation of more specific aggressive acts, whereas observation of filmed models (either real-life or cartoons) instigates more aggressive responses of all kinds.

Imitations of aggression chart
Imitations of aggression chart
Source : “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology”, 1996, Rita L. & Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

Pygmalion effect and Stereotype threat

A study by Frederique Autin, Fabrizio Butera and Anatolia Batruch, in 2018, shows that the image that teachers have of a student influences their rating. Their rating is worse for the same copy when they believe that the student comes from a disadvantaged background.

Even more frightening, the image that the adult has of the child changes the child’s self-image. This effect was experimentally demonstrated by the Rosenthal brothers in 1968, who call it the Pygmalion effect.

Rosenthal brothers tested children’s IQ in school and gave fake results to the teachers at the beginning of the school year. During the year, the students who were presented as “good” had better average results at school than others. A new test of these “pretended” good students showed an increase in their IQ. Students for which no positive expectations have been induced are described as less curious, less interested, less happy, and having less chance of success in life.
Since only the teachers knew the results of IQ tests, only their attitude towards the students can explain this result. Rosenthal brothers do not observe precisely the mechanisms at work in the transmission of the prejudices of the teacher to the students. Has the student been less questioned, less listened to, more criticized? When did the image of the student’s teacher become the student’s self-image? How does self-image affect performance?

Pygmalion effect or Self fulfilling prophecy
Pygmalion effect or Self fulfilling prophecy

A research conducted by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson can answer to this last question.
In an article published in 1995 in “Journal of personality and social psychology”, they show that black American perform worse than white American on an verbal test (SAT) if they are told beforehand that this test will diagnose their intellectual ability. There is no significant difference in performance if the test is presented as a laboratory problem-solving task that was non diagnostic of ability. There was a third condition in which the test was presented as challenge, although non diagnostic of ability, for which results were in between. They did other experiments showing that black Americans had more anxiety, doubts about themselves and prejudices when the test is supposed to measure their intellectual abilities.
Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson conclude that the anxiety about the threat of an intellectual diagnosis and even a challenge, is due to black Americans’ prejudice about their ability, and that their lack of self-confidence impairs their performance. They call this effect the “Stereotype threat“.

Performance difference in a verbal test (SAT) between black and white Americans
Performance difference in a verbal test (SAT) between black and white Americans, when the test is said to be predictive of their competence and when it is not.
Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson, 1995

Another article published in 1997 in the journal “American Psychologist” by Claude Steel shows a similar phenomenon between men and women. Women are less successful than men in a difficult math test if they are informed in advance that the test generally shows gender differences, while there is no significant difference between participants if they are told that men and women perform as well on this task. Other experiences also found that participants’ post treatment anxiety, not their expectancy or efficacy, predicted their performance.

Difference in performance between men and women on a mathematical task, when a prejudice is suggested, and when it is not. Claude Steel, 1997
Difference in performance between men and women on a mathematical task, when a prejudice is suggested, and when it is not. Claude Steel, 1997

In the ensuing decade more than 300 studies have been published that support this finding.
The results of these experiments show that stereotype threat is often the default situation in testing environments. The threat can be easily induced by asking students to indicate their gender before a test or simply having a larger ratio of men to women in a testing situation (Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000). Research consistently finds that stereotype threat adversely affects women’s math performance to a modest degree (Nguyen & Ryan, 2008) and may account for as much as 20 points on the math portion of the SAT (Walton & Spencer, 2009).
Aronson’s research also has shown that high-achieving and motivated women in the pipeline to STEM majors and careers are susceptible to stereotype threat.

In France, Pascal Huguet (CNRS) and Isabelle Regner (Toulouse University) present a test to teenagers. If it’s presented as an exercise of geometry, there is a large gaps between the performances of boys and girls. There is no difference in performance between boys and girls if the geometry test is presented as an exercise of drawing.
This experiment also illustrates the negative impact of stereotypes on girls: the performance gets worse on the same task when they think it’s about math, because they do not believe in their skills in mathematics.

Carol Dweck, social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, provides evidence that a “growth mindset” (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) leads to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm.

People with a “fixed mindset” tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. Whereas people with a “growth mindset” embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and aspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach ever-higher levels of achievements.

When it comes to gender prejudices, many studies show that a growth mindset protects girls and women from the influence of the stereotype that girls are not as good as boys at math.
Dweck and others have found gender gaps favoring boys in math and science performance among junior high and college students with fixed mindsets, while finding no gender gaps among their peers who have a growth mindset (Good & al., 2003; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Dweck, 2006).
Dweck and her colleagues conducted a study in 2005 in which one group of adolescents was taught that great math thinkers had a lot of innate ability and natural talent (a fixed-mindset message), while another group was taught that great math thinkers were profoundly interested in and committed to math and worked hard to make their contributions (a growth-mindset message). On a subsequent challenging math test, the girls who had received the fixed mindset message and the stereotype of women under performing in math, did significantly worse than their male counterparts; however, no gender difference occurred among the students who had received the growth-mindset message, even when the stereotype about girls was mentioned before the test (Good & al., 2009).

Stevenson & Stigler (1992) note that, in cultures that produce a large number of math and science graduates, especially women, including South and East Asian cultures, the basis of success is generally attributed less to inherent ability and more to effort.

All this is very interesting, may we think, but in the end, aren’t there still some “natural” differences in the intelligence of men and women? After all,  the greatest geniuses are all men, aren’t they?
Well, no ! Simply, female geniuses are less known, less visible, and sometimes despoiled. I invite you to discover some of them on my other website:

Natural vs cultural image of gender

It is interesting to describe, about the construction of identity through imitation, a study conducted by Sandra and Daryl Bem (1996). They find that children who have a biological definition of gender also have a more stable sense of their gender, because they are not afraid of losing their masculinity or femininity if they have a behavior that is atypical for their gender. Such children should then be less stereotyped in their behavior, more able to resist social influences and pressures that are trying to force them into stereotyped behaviors, and more tolerant of people who do not conform to stereotypes. However, children who identify sex with cultural indicators, like hairstyle and clothes, should have more tendency to be more gender stereotyped.

This idea is confirmed by a study conducted on children of 27 months. They are asked to identify the sex of the people in a brochure, who have conventional clothes for their gender. Children who answer correctly (about half of them), are called “early labelers”. Observation of these children shows that they spend twice more time than others on gender stereotyped toys. Additionally their father defends, more than other children’s father, the idea that boys and girls should have different toys, that they should not see a person of the opposite sex naked, and that they should not have sexual information. They also have more tendencies to avoid their children’s questions about sex and they express more traditional opinions about women. These differences not observed in mothers (Fagot and Leinbach, 1989). These results are consistent with other studies (see “Active learning“), which show that father are more concerned than mothers about gender-stereotyped behavior in their children.

Sandra and Daryl Bem conclude that teaching children early that the genitals determine the sexual gender, should immunize them against an unconditional acceptance of gender roles.

The difference between children educated with and without an organic definition of gender is illustrated by Sandra and Daryl Bem’s own son, Jeremy. He decided one day to wear barrette in preschool. Another boy told him that only girls wear barrette. After he talked with his parents, Jeremy said to the other boy that wearing barrette does nothing, being a boy means having a penis and testicles. The second boy responds then “everyone has a penis, only girls wear barrette”.

It would be interesting to follow the gender development of children who have been on naturist campsites. I have, and, I don’t know if it is related, but, until I’ve been a teenager and started to feel pressured by peers, I was never concerned about proving my sex through my clothes and my behavior.

Is nudity sexual?

If we let children go naked, for example, in the context of vacations, what about adults? Should they be naked like children, so that they know it’s not different? But, isn’t it likely to degenerate into sexual harassment?

In fact, it is clothing that sexualizes nudity, because the only people of the opposite sex that we see naked are those with whom we have sex, or those who are seen in the media in erotic staging. Among hunter-gatherers, nudity is common, without arousing sexual desires. Animals and plants are naked, there is nothing sexual about it. The border between the “decent” and the “indecent” (what is sexual or not), depends precisely on the amount of clothing that one is accustomed to see on others.

Active learning

We learn primarly by building asociations over basic needs. This process is called conditioning. More complexe associations such as symbols, occur later. Stages of child development have been studied by Piaget. In this development, the action of the child on the environment plays en central role.


Classical conditioning is the learning of an association between two stimuli. Operant conditioning is learning of an association between a stimulus and a behavioral response.

Classical conditioning – learning a relation between stimuli

Classical conditioning was described by Pavlov in the beginning of the last century, with researches on dogs: a neutral stimulus, like the sound of a bell, triggers the dog’s attention, or “orientation response”. If the tone is associated with an unconditioned stimulus, food, that provokes an unconditioned response, salivation, after a few times the tone is enough to provoke the salivation. The tone becomes a conditioned stimulus and the salivation becomes a conditioned response also called “conditioned reflex”.

Classical conditioning creates a perception of the world: stimulus of our environment, that are not ignored by habituation (see below), evokes associations with emotions (pleasure, fear, anger…) and appropriate behaviors (approach, avoidance, aggression…), and the relationship between stimulus and our primitive needs is indirect and constructed.

Operant conditioning – learning relation between a stimulus and a behavioral response

Also based on an association of stimulus-response, it’s the person’s behavior that induces appearance of a desired target (or the disappearance of something unpleasant).
These associations are enhanced by repetition. A behavior can also be inhibited by punishment or no reward. A reward seems to be more effective when it is of a social nature (compliments, smiling, esteem, love …).
Operant conditioning models the impact one has on its environment. For example, being successful on a task at school as a result of a hard work, causes the student to maintain or increase this hard work. Congratulation and esteem from other children when a child hits another, encourages him to repeat the same behavior, while he is discouraged in an environment of children who hate violence and exclude him for such behaviors.

In all forms of conditionings, the withdrawal of a conditioned stimulus produces an extinction of the conditioned response.
Stimuli that act as reinforcements, are in the beginning “primary” and common to all individuals, and become more and more deferred: they are reached through indirect reinforcements, special to the history of an individual, social group or culture. For example, money is an indirect reinforcement, as it allows the satisfaction of other needs.
Relationships between stimulus-responses can be generalized to similar stimulus or stimuli that occur simultaneously. They can, on the contrary, be made more specialized, if only one component of a stimulus continues to bring reward or punishment, since similar stimulus that don’t have this component don’t trigger the same event.
Associations become more and more sophisticated, and perceptions and behaviors resulting from previous associations prepares future associations, as a network that develops and stays open.

One question that one can have when reading about behaviorism, what are the primitive needs on which are based all associations?
Studies on motivation suggests some theories on basic needs:
– Physiological needs: experiments on animals in behavioral researchs often uses hunger and pain.
– Social needs: attachment (Bowlby), tenderness (Harlow), affiliation (resulting from “imprinting” described by Konrad Lorenz).
– Cognitive needs: exploration (Butler), manipulation (Harlow), and curiosity that, according to Berlyne, consists of a need for novelty, incongruity, complexity, and conflict.

Habituation and sensitization


We are permanently exposed to a large quantity of information. So, to maintain a cognitive stability (or respect the cognitive development speed), one must be able to discriminate the appropriate stimulus from the constant “background noise” of the environment
Habituation does this: to repeat a stimulus without any kind of reward leads first to a reaction of curiosity (watch the stimulus for example) to more and more indifference, until the stimulus is completely ignored.
Habituation differs from physical fatigue or sensory adaptation because it is a specific response to a stimulus. As conditioned responses, habituation can be generalized or specified, to/from stimulus that have common characteristics.
Habituation can also be switched off:
– If a new stimulus is happening almost simultaneously with others that the subject has been accustomed to.
– If there is a long time before the stimulus happens again.

Habituation is a powerful tool to keep crowd’s inertia. It is used by governments to make people accept unpopular measures (increase in taxes, reduction of compensation …)

Similarly, the degrading image of women in fictions (presented as less intelligent, less courageous than men), repeated systematically, trigger no attention, they become unconscious, therefore their influences over our judgment is difficult to identify and to control.


Sensitization also occurs through the presentation of an attractive stimulus, often enough to be rembered, not often enough to causes habituation.

Sensitization explains how advertising works: a need is created by the display of a product and its benefits. The need can only be satisfied by purchasing the product.

Complex associations

As associations become more complex, generalities emerge. They will base the abstract reasoning, which is accompanied or not by symbols.

According to constructivist theories founded by Jean Piaget, it is the action of the child on his/her environment that will lead her or him to build an increasingly abstract knowledge. By focusing on the child’s action, Piaget implicitly address a critique of the academic way of sharing knowledge, at least for youngest children.

Learning should start from the concrete to the abstract and let the child manipulate objects related to the concepts that she or he has to learn.

This conception of learning had already been formulated a few years earlier by Maria Montessori.

Piaget’s observations of children at different ages allowed him to define the following phases (I use the feminine form to avoid overloading the text of “she/he” or “he/she”):

– From 0 to 2 years old, the child is in the sensorimotor phase: she learns by trial and error the relation between what she does and what she feels (a relation also described above in “operant conditioning”). At the end of this stage, she is aware of “the permanence of the object”: the object continues to exist even if she does not perceive it anymore.
Example: When hiding a toy under a cloth, the 8-month-old baby stops watching it. When a little older, she lifts the clothes to find the toy.

– From 2 to 6-7 years, the child is in the preoperative phase: she learns to speak, so to associate things with symbols. She gradually learns the notions of quantity, space, time, but remains essentially anchored in the immediate experience. She does not see other people point of view as different from hers.
Example: When a 4-year-old child sees the same amount of water poured into vases of different shapes, she says there is more water where she sees the highest water level.

– From 6-7 years old to 11-12 years old, this is the phase of concrete operations: the child is able to learn mathematics. But logical reasoning remains in relation to the concrete.
Compared to the previous example, the child is now able to say that there is actually as much water in each of the vases. But if one makes her build, with cubes, a tower on a narrow surface, which has the same volume as a tower built on a larger surface, she realizes an approximate assembly with erroneous attempts of computations.

– From 11-12 years to 14 years, the child is in the stage of formal operations: she becomes able to reflect on moral and philosophical issues.
The child can build the tower of the previous example by precisely calculating the number of cubes needed to obtain the same volume.

Piaget’s observations were criticized because the child might not understand some of the questions because of a verbal immaturity, not a conceptual one. Experiments by Markman (1979), among others, show that children are able to recognize equalities of quantities despite different spatial arrangements, at an earlier age than that observed by Piaget.

Piaget also notes two distinct processes in learning: assimilation and accommodation. In the first case (assimilation), the subject interprets and retains the information coming from the environment, according to her/his existing knowledge. In the second case, accommodation, the subject questions his/her knowledge and therefore his/her future interpretations, according to the new information provided by the environment.
Accommodation implies a greater mental flexibility.
Existing knowledge thus influences the ability to acquire new knowledge: while respecting a principle of economy of effort, we are more permeable to the acquisition of information that is consistent with what we already know, rather than changing certain beliefs to take account new information.

This phenomenon helps to explain the persistence of prejudices or obsolete academic knowledge by schools and other institutions.
This also explains why we feel that we learn less in adulthood. As a child, the need to adapt in order to know how to survive is obvious. But when we have come to a relatively stable professional and familial situation, this need is less strong, so the natural tendency to minimize effort is prevalent, and we simply assimilate without questioning our patterns of thinking.

The ability to accommodate can however come back when the professional or familial situation is changed, or when we need to adapt to a foreign culture and its language, when we fall in love and we want to make the relationship work, or when we have a special motivation to learn something totally new.

Effect of education on genders

When the baby is born, its nervous system is not very developed. It will grow rapidly according to the first experiences that are presented to him.

Neural network sample of the baby from 0 to 24 months
Neural network sample of the baby from 0 to 24 months

Here is an extract of a book published in 1996 in USA “Hilgard’s introduction to psychology” (12th edition) by Rita L. and Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Daryl J. Bem and Susan Nolen- Hoeksema:

Observations made in the home of preschool children have found that parents reward their daughters for dressing up, dancing, playing with dolls, or simply following them around but criticize them for manipulating objects, running, climbing and jumping. In contrast, parents reward their sons for playing with blocks but criticize them for playing with dolls, asking for help, or even volunteering to be helpful (Fagot, 1978). Parents tend to demand more independence of boys and to have higher expectations of them. They also respond less quickly to boys’ request for help and focus less on the interpersonal aspects of a task. And finally, parents punishes boys both verbally and physically more often than girls (Maccoby et Jacklin, 1974).
Some have suggested that in reacting differently to boys and girls, parents may not be imposing their own stereotypes on them but simply reacting to real innate differences between the behaviors of the two sexes (Maccoby, 1980). (…) But adults approach children with stereotyped expectations that lead them to treat boys and girls differently. For example, adults viewing newborn infants through the window of an hospital nursery believe they can detect sex differences. Infants thought to be boys are described as robust, strong and large featured; identical looking infants thought to be girls are described as delicate, fine featured and “soft” (Luria & Rubin, 1974). In one study, college students viewed a videotape of a 9-month-old infant showing a strong but ambiguous emotional reaction to a jack-in-the-box. The reaction was more often labeled as “anger” when the child was thought to be a boy, and “fear” when the same infant was thought to be a girl (Condry & Condry, 1976). When an infant was called David in another study, “he” was actually treated more roughly by subjects than when the same infant was called Lisa (Bern, Martina & Watson, 1976).
Fathers appear to be more concerned with sex-typed behaviors than mothers, particularly with their sons. They tend to react more negatively than mothers (interfering with the child’s play or expressing disapproval) when their sons play with “feminine” toys. Fathers are less concerned when their daughters engage in “masculine” play, but they still show more disapproval than mothers do (Langlois & Downs, 1980).
But if parents and other adults treat children in sex-stereotyped ways, children themselves are the real “sexists”. Peers enforce sex-stereotyping much more severely than parents. Indeed, parents who consciously seek to raise their children without the traditional sex-role stereotypes – by encouraging the child to engage in a wide range of activities without labeling any activity as masculine or feminine or by playing nontraditional roles within the home – are often dismayed to find their efforts undermined by peer pressure. Boys, in particular, criticize other boys when they see them engaged in “girls” activities. They are quick to call another boy a sissy if he plays with dolls, cries when he’s hurt, or shows tender concern toward another child in distress. In contrast, girls seem not to object to other girls playing with “boys” toys or engaging in masculine activities (Longlois & Down, 1980).
This points up a general phenomenon: the taboos in our culture against feminine behavior for boys are stronger than those against masculine behavior in girls. Four and five years old boys are more likely to experiment with feminine toys and activities (such as dolls, a lipstick and mirror, hair ribbons) when no one is watching than when an adult or another boy is present (Kobasigawa, Arakaki & Awiguni, 1966; Hartup & Moore, 1963).

Boy toys
Girl toys

“Le Monde Diplomatique” presents a series of studies published in the issue “Femmes, le mal genre?”(“Women, the bad gender?”) From the collection “Manière de voir” (“Way of seeing”), March-April 1999. An article by Ingrid Carlander “An irrational fear of science” (“Une peur irraisonnée des sciences”), reports hidden camera observations that reveal that science teachers spend around 20% more time with boys. Girls are less questioned and are more frequently interrupted. Teachers encourage girls for their good behavior and the cleanliness of their copy, and boys for the relevance of their arguments.

Other observations performed in schools, reported by Aebischer in 1991, shows that teachers are asking for more participation to boys than girls (Guibert, 1987; Valabrègue, 1989), rely more on them in science and technology (Marques, 1990), talk more to them (Milner, 1989) and show more interest in what they do.

Advertising from a Swedish shop: a boy among all kinds of toys
Advertising from a Swedish shop: a boy among all kinds of toys