Here’s the kicker: Baron-Cohen goes on to state that testosterone, that pesky ‘male’ sex hormone you’ve no doubt heard about, may play a key role in the development of a systemizing vs. emphasizing brain. Specifically, the amount of testosterone babies are exposed to in the womb, known as fetal testosterone, could be the big key to our interests and behavior as adults, as he states: “the more you have of this special substance, the more your brain is tuned into systems and the less your brain is tuned into emotional relationships.” Regardless of gender.
In multiple studies Baron-Cohen looked at the amount of testosterone babies are exposed to in the womb and then looked at them at 12 months, 18 months, two years, and four years of age.
He found that the higher the baby’s fetal testosterone levels, the less eye contact the child makes at age one, the smaller his or her vocabulary is at 18 months, and by age four, those with the highest fetal-testosterone levels score the lowest on a test of social skills and the highest on a test showing deep interest in a narrow range of topics. Again, all of this being regardless of the babies’ gender.
And guess what? Based on testing thousands of male and females with 60-question tests to identify people as empathizers or systemizers, Baron- Cohen figures that 44 percent of women have empathizing brains, 17 percent have systemizing brains and 35 percent have brains that are roughly balanced between the two poles (four percent exhibit an “extreme female brain” type). On the other hand 53 percent of men have systemizing brains, 17 percent have empathizing brains, and 24 percent are roughly balanced (the remaining six percent have an extreme male brain and exhibit behavior that Baron-Cohen labels as autistic).
From an evolutionary perspective this makes a lot of sense. For example, better empathizing may improve care of infants, which requires understanding and reading the minds of individuals with whom they cannot communicate by language. Better empathy may also improve women’s social network, which may help in various ways, for instance, the caring of children. On the other hand, systemizing may help males become good hunters and increase their social status by improving spatial navigation and the making and use of tools.
But, as always, I know what you’re thinking and can already sense the frustrated reactions : who cares about evolution?! What on earth does this have to do with Door #1 and Door #2? Does this mean he will NEVER be able to understand me and tell me how he feels?! Because his brain was pumped up on hormones BEFORE HE WAS EVEN BORN?!
Well, yes and no. Firstly, the importance of environmental influences is not being discounted here, in fact I would go so far as to argue that emotional intelligence is greater influenced by nurture than by biological traits. So even if he does find it difficult to tell you how he feels, that is not to say he can’t. That would be a matter of learning how to do so, either through childhood rearing or conscious action as an adult.
Secondly, I highlight this theory because despite the obvious generalizations, the fact that these labels are based on group averages means that an individual male or female may not be typical for their sex – a male can have a typically female brain (if his testosterone levels are low), while a female can have a typically male brain (if her testosterone levels are high).