Lise Eliot, associate professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School, uncovers the truth behind age-old clichés from brain size to emotional intelligence.
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Debunking Gender Stereotypes Psychological measure that we would look at is empathy or awareness of other people’s emotion. And if you ask a man or a woman how do you feel if your friend’s puppy dies? Or how do you feel, you know, if your mother is sick? Generally, women will express greater empathy. They will say that it affects them harder. But if you test people, but that’s a subjective measure, when we test subjectively, we see a large sex difference in empathy. Presumably that reflects depth of relationships. But if you test people objectively, show them on a video screen images of faces and ask them to identify is that person expressing fear or anger or sadness, whatever, then you see a much, much smaller gender difference in empathy. And so, you know, I think women are better at recognizing emotion but the difference is not as large as we culturally reinforce. And so girls are raised, I think, or through their peer groups to put greater emphasis on relationships. Men get there usually when they’re involved in a relationship and certainly when they become parents, the depth of emotion is no different. I site some studies in the book about imaging the parent brain after someone becomes a mother or father and you see much bigger differences between men who’ve never been fathers and fathers. Women who’ve never been mothers and mothers than you do between mothers and fathers. So it’s the experience of parenting that lights off these limbic circuits and helps you respond to infants. So the ability to read emotion in another person is a reliable difference. Quantitatively it’s in the small to moderate range so it’s about four-tenths of a standard deviation difference between men and women. Again, if a woman – if you ask a woman, "How do you feel when you describe another person’s emotion?" she will probably report a bigger response than a man will. But if you actually test people objectively, the male-female difference is smaller. Yeah. Physical aggression, probably not surprisingly, is one of the more reliable sex differences. It’s about a half a standard deviation in difference and it shows up pretty early in childhood. But what’s interesting I think, and was surprising to me, is that it doesn’t suddenly change at puberty. I thought, you know, pubertal testosterone, that’s when boys really become physically aggressive, but surprisingly, no. There’s been a lot of research on this by John Archer in England. There’s no sudden change at all. So if testosterone influences aggression, and it probably does, it happens prenatally. In fact, girls who are exposed to higher levels of male hormones before birth because of a particular genetic disorder known as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, these girls have been studied extensively, as you might imagine, to look at the effects of prenatal hormones. And physical activity and aggression are definitely higher in these girls than in control girls. So there is a reliable difference in physical aggression. Although the interesting thing about physical aggression is that I have this great chart I probably should have put in the book but that boys and girls both decline very dramatically in physical aggression from the toddler years to puberty. Not surprisingly. Every two and three year old kicks and bites and scratches. And both boys and girls learn very well that they’re not supposed to do it. Boys are always do a bit more of that than girls do but they all decline as they’re trained and they learn that physical aggression is not acceptable. Now most women appreciate that there are other forms of aggression. I think a lot of men appreciate this too when it’s not appropriate to physically aggress, there are plenty of people that aggress verbally. And girls when they hit not even puberty, even before puberty, engage in more, what’s known as relational aggression, where you – It’s sort of the best friend wars of whispering behind each other’s backs and turning friends against each other which i
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