Posts Tagged ‘sex differences’

David Buss defends evolved sex differences (exclusive!)

October 15, 2010

This week Scientific American ran an article of mine, “Student Surveys Contradict Claims of Evolved Sex Differences.” Here’s the gist:

For more than three decades evolutionary psychologists have advanced a simple theory of human sexuality: because men invest less reproductive effort in sperm than women do in eggs, men’s and women’s brains have been shaped differently by evolution. As a result, men are eager for sex whereas women are relatively choosy. But a steady stream of recent evidence suggests this paradigm could be in need of a makeover.

A highly cited 1993 paper on evolved sex differences (linked to below) served as the story’s jumping off point and foil. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin, a co-author of that paper, kindly responded to a query of mine while I was writing the story, laying out his objections to the evidence I cited in the article. I knew I wasn’t going to have room to do justice to his views, so I asked him if I could post his comments to this blog. He did me one better: he wrote a direct response to my article, which I’m reprinting below in its entirety. Read the rest of this entry »


Is aggression a valid personality construct?

August 19, 2010

I’ve given Jonah Lehrer a fair amount of crap for not being radical enough. I shouldn’t complain. He’s giving me a niche to occupy. In that spirit, I’ll give Jonah a belated fistbump for providing an independent reason to believe that aggression patterns in men and women would be influenced by a variety of factors, both individual and social, as opposed to some essential difference between the sexes: Read the rest of this entry »

Toward a cultural explanation of the math gap

August 13, 2010

Ok, so, we’ve arrived at the end of our Lise Eliot series. It’s time for the math gap.

Recall this, from my John Tierney post:

The Duke researchers — Jonathan Wai, Megan Cacchio, Martha Putallaz and Matthew C. Makel — focused on the extreme right tail of the distribution curve: people ranking in the top 0.01 percent of the general population, which for a seventh grader means scoring above 700 on the SAT math test. In the early 1980s, there were 13 boys for every girl in that group, but by 1991 the gender gap had narrowed to four to one, presumably because of sociocultural factors like encouragement and instruction in math offered to girls. Read the rest of this entry »

Why girls have better verbal skillz than boys

August 12, 2010

This is the penultimate post in my Lise Eliot series. I’ll let her do all the talking, as I’m saving my juice for tomorrow’s post.

Females do outscore males on most measures of speaking, reading, writing and spelling from early childhood and throughout life, but the gaps are generally small and change with age.

Language differences emerge early in development. As infants, girls begin talking about one month earlier than boys and are some 12 percent ahead of boys in reading skills when kindergarten begins. Girls’ advantage in reading and writing continues to grow through school, until by 12th grade, an alarming 47 percent more girls than boys graduate as proficient readers, with an even larger gap for writing, a conclusion drawn from several decades of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. Read the rest of this entry »

Shocker: scientist claims we can teach boys to be more sensitive

August 11, 2010

This post continues my serialization of Lise Eliot’s Sci Am Mind article on sex differences.

Here’s what Eliot has to say about empathy:

Aggression and empathy are inversely related. It is hard to attack someone if you are acutely aware of what he or she is feeling. So whereas men and boys score higher on measures of physical and verbal aggression, girls and women score higher on most measures of empathy, or the awareness and sharing of other people’s emotions, conclude psychologist Nancy Eisenberg of Arizona State University and her colleagues in studies dating back to the 1980s.

And yet the sex difference in empathy is smaller than most people realize and also strongly dependent on how it is measured. Read the rest of this entry »

Parents and peers reinforce gendered play

August 10, 2010

In Lise Eliot’s telling, toy preferences make for an interesting interplay of biology and social influence. She notes that “preschool-age boys and girls strongly prefer the gender-obvious picks.” In short, it’s trucks vs. dolls.

In fact, children’s gendered toy choice is one of the largest sex differences in behavior, second only to sexual preference itself! But this preference is not nearly so clear in infancy, when boys, in many studies, have been found to like dolls as much as girls do. (All babies are strongly attracted to faces, for obvious survival reasons.) Rather, toy preference emerges toward the end of infancy, grows stronger through the preschool years and then declines somewhat because of a complex interaction of nature and nurture. Read the rest of this entry »

Are boys more aggressive than girls?

August 9, 2010

In this post I’ll excerpt the portions of Lise Eliot’s Sci Am Mind article having to do with physical activity levels and aggression in boys and girls.

Boys are more physically active than girls, in infancy and throughout childhood. They kick, swing their arms and race around the house noticeably more than girls do, as many exhausted parents can testify. The difference may emerge before birth, although not every ultrasound study finds a sex difference in fetal movement. Nevertheless, the disparity is clear during the first year and expands through childhood, according to a 1986 analysis [possibly this?] of more than 100 studies by psychologist Warren Eaton and his colleagues at the University of Manitoba in Canada, which reveals that the average boy is more active than about 69 percent of girls. Read the rest of this entry »

Lise Eliot beats Steven Pinker on sex differences

August 8, 2010

I really want you to read this article in Scientific American Mind on the alleged biological differences between boys and girls, but it’s behind a pay wall. So what I’m going to do is blog the article in multiple installments, starting with the big picture.

The author is a neuroscientist named Lise Eliot (right), and she brings a welcome dose of sanity to a subject I had last encountered in Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a masterpiece of conservative political philosophy masquerading as objective science. (Too harsh?) Pinker is emphatic that, as every parent “deep down” knows, “boys and girls are [not] interchangeable” (422), and anyone who coolly analyzes the evidence must come to the same conclusion. Of course, the evidence he offers is little more than a grab bag of isolated, circumstantial factoids. Read the rest of this entry »