Ladies, which male would you choose?

  • PublishedFebruary 3, 2012

As always, delving into our biology is necessary to rescue us from the depths of our confusion in figuring out the opposite sex, whichever side of the equation one may lie. And like any aspect of human physiology and behavior, it is an unremitting dance between genetic inheritance (i.e. biology) and environmental factors. Yet there is something about the biological and social elements of sex and gender that produce the most heated and contradictory theories and debates amongst behavioral scientists, psychologists and neuroscientists.

Let’s first be clear about the basics: sex refers to the biological distinction between males and females; gender refers to the behavioral, cultural or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. Gender is a social construct, therefore it is subjective and malleable. Put it this way: “Sex is the biological fact that only males have sperm and only females bear offspring. Gender is the social expectation that all women love shoes and all men love sports.” Got it?

When it comes to specific differences between the sexes, it is perhaps more helpful to question whether the difference derives from an evolved psychological adaptation, and if so, whether it is a sexually dimorphic psychological adaptation (read: whether male and females are biologically different). For example, not only is a man’s skull almost always thicker and stronger than a woman’s, but this thickness, along with other anatomical differences, have been associated with a uniquely male disposition to high speed activities and reckless behavior.

And there’s more! It is true that men’s brains are on average 10 percent bigger than women’s and have four percent more cells. But before all you men claim superiority for having a bigger brain, note that both sexes have a similar brain weight to body weight ratio and that women’s brains are more densely packed with nerve cells and cellular connections. This allows the smaller, more compact female brain to be more efficient and effective.

In regard to cognitive functioning, men rely easily and more heavily on their left hemisphere (the logical/rational side) to solve one problem, one step at a time, and are more capable of spatial skills, including mechanical design, measurement, direction, abstraction and manipulation of physical objects. Women however have four times as many neurons connecting the right hemisphere, which is involved in emotion, and the left hemisphere, which is involved in speech, allowing them focus on more than one problem at one time by having more efficient access to both hemispheres. The fact that both sides of the brains are activated when women talk may theorize why women are more verbally skilled than men, have a greater built-in facility for talking about their feelings and why they are better judges of character.

Let’s rephrase some of that to clarify things: the bundle of nerves connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain is 25 percent smaller in men, making it more difficult for men to make language out of their experience. Not only do men use about half the amount of words that women do. While women can talk all night long about how they feel, for most men talking about their emotions is often difficult and stressful, as evidenced by an increase in the stress hormone cortisol when engaged in this daunting activity.

In other words, the male brain simply isn’t efficiently built for articulating emotions. Now that explains everything, doesn’t it? Wait, is that a round of applause I hear from the men out there? Indeed it is! Feel free to set forth and use these biological facts as a rebuttal to all the incessant complaints about your lack of emotions. You’re welcome sirs.

Ok, seriously, I say this not to dishearten the ladies, or to provide excuses for the gents (no, justifying your high-speed drunk driving on the thickness of your skull will never be acceptable), but to merely acknowledge some of the biological facts scientists are beginning to uncover.

And though there is much more to be said about the fascinating psychological adaptations between the sexes, many of you maybe wondering where I’m going with all this brain talk, and what this has to do with Door #1 and Door #2. Allow me if you may to put forth one final revelation… The Cambridge University psychologist, Baron-Cohen, theorized that there are basically two kinds of brains – the empathizing brain and the systemizing brain. Those with an empathizing brain are good at understanding how someone else might feel, good at identifying people’s inner emotions simply by looking at their facial expressions, good at relationships, and maintain those healthy relationships by sharing feelings. On the other hand, those with a systemizing brain are driven to understand systems in terms of rules. They specialize in events with predictable consequences, spend endless hours observing all the details, are more interested in organizing principles than in the social world, cultivate an expertise and are good with mechanical things, not people.

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