It’s been 10 years since I read Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference, and Steve Moxon’s The Woman Racket, which together started me on the path to dedicating the rest of my days to fighting the evil ideology of feminism. So I remain bemused by newspaper headlines such as “Men and women really do think differently, say scientists”.
A piece in today’s Times , written by… two MEN!!! Mark Bridge, Technology Correspondent, and Tom Whipple, Science Editor:
The much-maligned but longstanding idea that women enjoy discussing their emotions while men are mostly excited by cars may be true after all.
Scientists conducting the world’s largest study of sex differences in the brainfound men were more likely to prefer “things” and “systems”, while women were more interested in people and emotions. Men were almost twice as likely as women to be “systems-orientated” rather than empathetic and vice versa.
Scientists at Cambridge University surveyed more than 650,000 people and said that their results confirmed two theories: first, the empathising- systemising theory of sex differences, which predicts that, at the population level, men will be more excited by coding, for instance, while women will be more attuned to feelings; second, the extreme male brain theory, which predicts that the brains of autistic people are more “masculine” than is typical for their sex, in that they are more systems-focused.
The twin theories, from the Cambridge scientist Simon Baron-Cohen, are controversial and have previously been described as “neurosexism”.
James Damore, a former Google engineer, cited the empathising-systemising theory in a leaked memo to colleagues for which he was sacked last year, arguing that women were underrepresented in tech not because of sexism and discrimination but because of innate biological differences. Based on responses from 671,606 people, mostly in Britain, the Cambridge team said in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that gender differences in brain types were “very clear”. However, they said that it was not apparent to what extent they were down to inherited characteristics or socialisation.
In the study, 44.4 per cent of men who were not autistic were categorised as having a “Type S” or “extreme Type S” brain, scoring higher “systemising” than empathy, compared with 27.3 per cent of women. Professor Baron-Cohen has previously dubbed the Type S, or systemising, brain the “male brain”.
At the same time, 42.9 per cent of non-autistic women had “Type E” brains, scoring higher on empathy than systemising, compared with 24.6 per cent of men. Professor Baron-Cohen has called the Type E brain the “female brain”. The remainder of non-autistic participants had “Type B” or “balanced” brains.
Among autistic participants, 62.4 per cent of men were categorised as Type S or extreme Type S, and 46.8 per cent of women. That compared with 13.7 per cent of autistic men and 23.1 per cent of autistic women categorised as Type E or extreme Type E — meaning autistic people were much more likely than non-autistic people of their gender to have “masculine” brain traits.
Professor Baron-Cohen said the research highlighted the qualities autistic people bring to neurodiversity, saying: “They are on average strong systemisers, meaning they have excellent pattern-recognition skills, excellent attention to detail and an aptitude in understanding how things work. We must support their talents so they achieve their potential, and society benefits too.”
Critics said the results depended on self-reporting, which may be unreliable. The findings were based on participants’ “agree/disagree” answers to statements, such as “I am good at predicting how someone will feel”.
Professor Gina Rippon, of Aston University, author of The Gendered Brain, said: “Such self-report measures are prone to the kind of distortions caused by stereotypes – people who know you are measuring empathy are more likely to present themselves in more of an ‘empathic’ light than unprimed behaviour might indicate.”
The authors stress that differences observed in this study apply “only to group averages, not to individuals”. They say that to make inferences based on gender, autism diagnosis or occupation would constitute stereotyping and discrimination with which they “strongly disagree”.
Dr Varun Warrier, a member of the Cambridge team, said: “These sex differences in the typical population are very clear. We know from related studies that individual differences in empathy and systemising are partly genetic, partly influenced by our prenatal hormonal exposure, and partly due to environmental experience. We need to investigate the extent to which these observed sex differences are due to each of these factors, and how these interact.”
Professor Rippon added: “The participants in this study were aged between 16 and 89 years old – plenty of time to have absorbed the gendered messages to which they will have been exposed. In an era where bombardment by stereotypical gendered messages is ever present and where we are still subject to widely publicised outbursts concerning women’s unsuitability for scientific careers, I am concerned about the take-home message that may be extracted from this paper.”
Professor Cordelia Fine, of the University of Melbourne, author of Testosterone Rex: Unmasking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds, pointed out that, according to the Cambridge team’s own findings, sex differences are such that were you to choose a man and woman at random, their scores would be counter to expectations, with the man scoring higher than the woman on empathy about four times in ten. She added that only a minority of non-autistic men have Type S or extreme Type S (“male”) brains and only a minority of non-autistic women have Type E or extreme Type E (“female”) brains.
In the comments section, Quentin Manley writes:
The research team is now off to spend a million quid researching ursine woodland defecation behaviours: do they or don’t they?
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