Thursday, January 6, 2011

Behavioral Differences between Men and Women

Men and women are different, everyone knows that. But, aside from external anatomical and primary and secondary sexual differences, scientists know also that there are many other subtle differences in the way the brains from men and women process language, information, emotion, cognition, etc. In our previous post, we have review basic structural differences between male and female brain, while in this one we will focus our assessment on the behavioral differences between the sexes.

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Through the history, many behavioral differences have been reported for men and women both by popular authors and serious researches.

For example, the significant differences appear in the way men and women:
(1)   Estimate time,
(2)    Judge speed of things,
(3)   Carry out mental mathematical calculations,
(4)    Orient in space,
(5)    Visualize objects in three dimensions
(6)   The way their brains process language.

The "father" of sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson, said that human females tend to be higher than males in empathy, verbal skills, social skills, and security-seeking, among other things, while men tend to be higher in independence, dominance, spatial and mathematical skills, rank-related aggression, and other characteristics.  This may account, scientists say, for the fact that there are many more male mathematicians, airplane pilots, bush guides, mechanical engineers, architects and race car drivers than female ones.

Other interesting information is that, male brains separate language, in the left, and emotions in the right, while the female’s emotions are in both hemispheres. This helps explain why the male brain has a hard time expressing its feelings.

Perhaps this also helps to explain why females enjoy shopping while most men view it as a chore, women vote differently than males, men and women struggle communicating with each other, and men do not understand psychotherapy. Men tend to be more isolative, less talkative, and focused on solution. Women tend to be more group oriented, more talkative, and focused on the means and not necessarily the ends. This gets played out in the U.S. at this time as women and men tend to view the same debate between candidates differently (men tend to focus on content and women both content and style).

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Another difference is their verbal ability. Women have been repeatedly shown to excel in language and tasks that involve manual dexterity and perpetual speed such as visually identifying matching items. Tests show that women generally can recall lists of words or paragraphs of text better than men. On the other hand, men usually perform better on tests that require the ability to mentally rotate an image in order to solve a problem. They have an advantage in tasks requiring quantitative and reasoning abilities and usually excel in math as well as science.

Mental rotation is thought to help people find their way, according to researchers. Does that leave the majority of women lost? Obviously not! Scientists believe that women may rely on their memory advantage and recall landmarks to find a destination, i.e. men are more likely to navigate by estimating distance in space and orientation, whereas women are more likely to navigate by monitoring landmarks.

This difference can be observed even on babies’ behavior. Indeed, baby girls have been noted to gaze longer at objects than baby boys. Later they rely on landmarks and memory for guidance. Boys on the other hand, have a better visual-spatial ability such as aiming at stationary or moving targets and detecting minor movements in their visual fields more easily. The fact that males perform better in navigation seems to agree with the possible theory that evolutionarily, many of these abilities would have been important for survival in the time of hunter-gatherer societies, where males navigated unfamiliar terrain while hunting, and females foraged more nearby areas gathering food.

The empathizing – systemizing (E-S) theory

Empathizing is the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathizer intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity. Systemizing is the drive to analyze and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behavior of a system; and the drive to construct systems. The systemizer intuitively figures out how things work, or what the underlying rules are controlling a system. Systems can be as varied as a pond, a vehicle, a computer, a math’s equation, or even an army unit. They all operate on inputs and deliver outputs, using rules.

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According to this theory, developed by British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, a person (whether male or female) has a particular "brain type". There are three common brain types: for some individuals, empathizing is stronger than systemizing. This is called the female brain, or a brain of type E. For other individuals, systemizing is stronger than empathizing. This is called the male brain, or a brain of type S. Yet other individuals are equally strong in their systemizing and empathizing. This is called the "balanced brain", or a brain of type B. There are now tests you can take to see which type (E, S, or B) you are. Not which type you'd like to be, but which you actually are.

A key feature of this theory is that your sex cannot tell you which type of brain you have. Not all men have the male brain, and not all women have the female brain. The central claim of this new theory is only that on average, more males than females have a brain of type S, and more females than males have a brain of type E.

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