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Men Are From Mars (Logic), Women From Venus (Empathy)

Cambridge scientists reinforce old stereotypes; critics pounce on 'neurosexism'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2018 9:30 AM CST
Any truth to these theories?   (Getty Images/AntonioGuillem)

(Newser) – In what's said to be the largest study examining differences between the sexes, a longtime stereotype is holding some water—though critics are pushing back on the supposed biological merit underlying the results. The Telegraph reports that researchers at the University of Cambridge tested more than 670,000 people and found that when it comes to empathy—the ability to gauge how others are feeling or what they're thinking about—women have more of it, and that guys view the world more through a logical rules-based system. The men and women in the empathy study, published in PNAS, were asked to rank 20 statements that measured either empathy—ie, "I can easily work out what another person might want to talk about"—or "systems-oriented thinking," such as asking how interested participants were in knowing "the path a river takes from its source to the sea."

Men, on average, got a score of 9.87 out of 20 for empathy, while their female counterparts scored 10.79; for analytical thinking, men achieved a score of 6.73, women 5.45. What plays a part in determining individual differences in empathy, per Varun Warrier, one of the study's co-authors: our genes, our environment, and what hormones we're exposed to in the womb. In an accompanying data set to the main study, the scientists also found backup to support what a release calls the "Extreme Male Brain" theory of autism: that autistic people are more apt to have "masculinized" traits and aren't as likely to get big numbers on empathy, but will score as high or higher on tests of systemizing. Per the Sunday Times, detractors are calling both theories a form of "neurosexism" and claiming that the study relied on too much self-reporting to be valid. (How empathetic are Americans, anyway?)

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