The omen from the chromosomes

Where men and women really differ: Goals and preferences

We humans come into the world in an incredible variety of variations and designs. We are big or small, beautiful or ugly, unbearable or lovable. And if we are not succumbing to an extremely rare genetic mood, we can clearly ID ourselves as male or female. Each of us has a father and a mother who are mostly of the opposite sex. And we are all ears when a he has the hots for a non-she.

Some have always known it, the others even refuse to believe it after 120,000 scientific studies on this issue that have appeared in just the last 20 years: Males and females tick differently. In particular it gives the women's movement stomach cramps. "At some point in the history of feminism, the idea to take any differences between the sexes into account became outrageous," explains Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. The reasons for this prohibition on thinking are easy to understand. With reference to the "physiological idiocy of the woman", females for a long time had indeed been denied educational opportunities and life chances, and they had been trained for a life as homemakers and housewives.

But not long ago, the reading public came to an understanding that the psychological gap between Mars and Venus makes for nice small talk and a discussion starter. The writing couple Barbara and Allan Pease in particular with their mega bestsellers such as "Why Men Do not Listen and Women Can not Read Maps" formulated the new slogan: The minds of men and women work completely differently. Men learn languages badly, women can not think spatially. Men prefer to work harder, while women prefer to buy shoes. All this could be derived from the conditions of life in the Stone Age and was wired firmly into the hardware of the brain. Women should not even flirt with the idea to make it big in male domains. "To say the opposite is the surest recipe for walking through life unhappy, confused and disillusioned."

Authors such as Pease & Co of all things locate the sex differences where they incense the women's movement the most: In the world of innate intellectual skills and abilities. Men and women have completely different things on the ball. But that shot backfires scientifically, says psychologist Janet S. Hyde. The professor from the University of Wisconsin has evaluated the data from a total of 46 meta-analyzes of gender differences, which were based on 7000 individual studies. The focus was mainly on differences in cognitive, linguistic, spatial and motor skills.

The biggest review article about difference between men and women shows that the sexes actually differ in only one-fifth of 124 examined talents, weaknesses or gifts, and usually only to a small extent. In some instances, Eve's daughters even perform better. Men can indeed throw further and more accurately, but with dexterity, women are in the lead. Men can better rotate spatial patterns in the mind, but women have a sharper spatial memory. The ability to solve mathematical problems is more of a men thing, but women outdo the stronger sex at abstract number calculations. G, the so-called "general intelligence" is distributed equally between Ying and Yang.

Even the repeatedly found difference in mental rotation is insignificant in everyday life. "Tests such as mental rotation measure only their own special skills," warns biopsychologist Markus Hausmann from the University of Bochum; "They do not say much about everyday life." Not even mental rotation deadbeats must get lost in the maze of everyday life. To check this, psychologists from the university of Marburg had young men and women exposed to an unknown city. The task was to find as quickly as possible the way back to the station. The test ended in a draw - both sexes mastered the task in the same time. Nevertheless, women were more likely to think that their own sense of direction was lacking.

"Everything that is manifested at the cognitive level, for example that women and men can not park and not listen, these are all secondary or tertiary effects" concludes Jäncke Lutz, Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Zurich. "They are biologically irrelevant." If one wants to argue biologically, one must always ask: Why does nature need it? In the Stone Age men had to navigate as big game hunters in the wilderness. But without the same gift, female collectors would have been hamstrung in the same environment likewise.

"The idea that nature endows a sex with superior skills is not very plausible," agrees psychologist Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Evolution selects properties that help their carriers to spread their genes. But men and women are predisposed by their biological design in a way so that they can improve their reproductive success by different strategies and preferences. Because women bear the main burden of reproduction and can in principle produce not as much offspring as men, even if they engage with multiple sperm donors. "A father has at least the option to bolt after a successful conception and to try to dump his genes immediately with other partners," notes Munich psychologist Doris Bischof-Köhler.

For women, a caring disposition counts much more in the first place, due to the high parental investment; in fact, several studies demonstrate that most women gain a deep satisfaction from caring activities. For men, it can be biologically beneficial to spread their genes “with a watering can”. Therefore they depend crucially on their success in the competition with other men - after all, the potential female targets are limited because of their increased reproductive investment. And under this pressure of permanent rivalry emerged the characteristic behaviors of men, which today’s Equal Opportunities Officer and sociologists have to grapple with.

"Men and women, therefore, differ mainly in their tastes and preferences, in their motivations and goals in life," Baumeister concludes from the evolutionary point of view. The corresponding tendencies already show up in the animal kingdom, can already be observed in early childhood and develop under the influence of prenatal sex hormones. The typical male posturing, which already emerges at kindergarten age, is the result of selection pressure driving men to constantly court the ever scarce sexual partners. Boys, from the first day of their life, are more impulsive, difficult to soothe and rapidly aroused emotionally. At the age of six months it is much more important to them than to girls to assert themselves, and they take other children’s toys away a lot more often. Already at the age of one year, girls prefer to play with stuffed animals and dolls, while boys favor cars and other machines – everything that “works” somehow.

Children often have very rigid ideas of how a girl or a boy has to behave. Parents seem to have surprisingly little influence, as the two American psychologists Hugh Lytton and David Romney showed in a major review article: Children, not adults, are the true sexists in our society. "In the first years of the life of their children, parents do not consistently encourage gender conformity," says Doris Bischof-Köhler. This has to com from somewhere else

Give a boy a Barbie, and he will bend it so that it looks like a gun. If you give a girl a tank, she probably will pass it to her brother. Psychologists Horst Nickel and Ulrich Schmidt-Denter, then at the University of Dusseldorf, wanted to know if anti-authoritarian education changes anything about this pattern. To this end they compared the development of over 400 children aged three to five years, reared in alternative daycare centers. Indeed, the behavioral differences between the sexes were even far more strongly pronounced and corresponded much more to the usual clichés than in the traditional kindergartens: The boys turned out to be much more aggressive and broke conflicts more often with brute force. The girls on the other hand backtracked more readily and behaved more anxiously and dependently than their peers in conventional facilities.

There is a certain wisdom even children know: If you want to dominate, you should fancy yourself the biggest bloke. That lends your appearance persuasiveness. In fact, boys (and men)estimate their own abilities to be significantly higher than that of others. And in the long run, you will only prevail if the competition affords pleasure. This is not only reflected in the preference of boys for rough and tumble play. Studies show that men have on average more fun competing and appreciate status differences in the group more intensively, while women tend to strive for equality and to avoid competitions. They also prefer smaller and more intimate relationships as children, whereas boys play alternately with a number of comrades, recapitulates Roy Baumeister. "Because of their preference for shallower relationships, men can be found much more often in clubs, in politics, in team sports and in many other networks than women."

If the same talents really lie dormant in both sexes, what exactly makes women still blatantly dodge subjects such as mathematics and physics, even though they are superior to men with diplomas and Pisa questions? As American studies show, young males think they are better than women in disciplines such as mathematics - although they are objectively wrong. And even women who demonstrate key skills in mathematics or engineering, only half as often chose career paths in those fields.

Sociologist Cornelia Koppetsch from the Berlin Humboldt University has  one explanation: "Women get away with a self-actualization orientation and the luxury to go into areas that are not in demand in the labor market." Women choose the "providing and future weak subjects", argues the Bremer sociologist Gerhard Amendt, "because they rely on men willing to provide." They occupy the lion's share of all caring professions such as nursing, social work or child care. And although they can chalk up about half of all degrees in medicine in the USA, they are represented with a share of 75 percent in the financially less lucrative field of veterinary medicine.

The fact that women in all modern industrial nations rake in lower salaries is considered the height of injustice in the public debate. So in 2006 American females had to content themselves with 80 percent of the average male income. While this is significantly more than the 60 percent from 1979, everything indicates that the catching-up process has stalled in recent years. Probably all well-intentioned social interventions can not prevent a certain residual inequality remaining, predicts economist Richard McKenzie from the University of California at Irvine.

From evolutionary psychology stems an insight that chimes in with common sense: While men can increase their reproductive success by boasting with symbols of material success, women can not follow that strategy successfully. As the American psychologist David Buss found in large-scale surveys, women all over the world place more value on an economically successful and reliable partner, while men are guided primarily by physical attractiveness and by signs of youth and fertility. Of all women those who make a career for themselves are particularly keen on “macho” qualities in men.

This leads, according to Baumeister, to a complex of preferences which are particularly typical for men: earn a lot of money, produce something special, also work hard when in doubt and always be a winner. "We stem from the majority of men who, metaphorically speaking, put to sea, conquered other countries and made a big haul."

Throughout our history rich and powerful men have amassed a larger than average progeny. To test whether this genetic imperative is valid even today, the psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa from the University of Canterbury analyzed the details of the sex lives of 13,409 subjects. Conclusion: As to the basic instincts, we are still governed by the laws of the Neanderthal. Economically successful men still have a significantly greater number of sexual contacts and a greater number of changing bedfellows. In females, things are quite differently: Affluent women by no means convert their wealth in a higher number of sexual contacts. According to statistics today they marry even less frequently than poorer women. "Prosperity is a criterion that women use to choose men as their partners, but none that men use when they choose a woman."

Some men in our past had especially many children, while a large part remained entirely without offspring. Because they were exposed to the "dice game" of sexual selection much more strongly than femininity, men simply had to develop more extreme and risky proclivities. The chance to "make it big" with women through risky, but potentially successful behavior, was still better than the certainty of being ditched as genetic loser. Therefore, men are both dumber and smarter than women at the same time. Women on the other hand "move more to the average", says British psychologist Helena Cronin from the London School of Economics. Men represent a disproportionately large share of geniuses and Nobel Prize winners, but also of beggars, mentally handicapped and homeless. Among men, the difference between the best and the worst is enormous, says Cronin. "That means, men are almost inevitably over-represented both at the bottom and at the top."

Even the desire for sex was influenced by this mechanism, underscores Baumeister: Because most men had only a few chances to reproduce, they had to be "always ready" and embrace every opportunity. It is simply undeniable: men are “blessed” with a powerful sex drive, that often enough seems to be a curse: They think about sex more often and feel more sexual arousal. They yearn for a greater number of sexual partners and sexual experiences. They often indulge in sexual fantasies and “do it” much more often to themselves. The male sex drive is almost doomed to be unsatisfied. "The crux is that the average man would like to have sex with many women, but most of these women do not want sex with him."

There are few areas in our lives in which the sexes differ to such a large degree as in violent crime. About 90 percent of all murders and most homicides in the industrialized nations are committed by men, and there are no signs that this gap would be reduced by the equalization of living standards. Female homicides always have a strikingly intimate character and are almost always the explosive end of a long chain of hurtful and humiliating experiences. Almost all serial killers are men, and their rare female counterparts, the "Angels of Grace", have a position in the care of sick, disabled and children. There is still another variant of the female serial killer, and it too conforms to the gender stereotype: the Black Widow, who kills her mates for money. The prisons in the US are populated almost exclusively by male inmates. It may be true that women in intimate relationships often turn into in "furies" and abuse their children, but they also spend more time with them. "But the probability that a woman walking in the city at night is suddenly embroiled in a fight with other women is vanishingly small," Roy Baumeister points out.

This also has to do with the fact that the sexes differ in the way they deal with hazards: Men always see risks as loss or gain, victory or defeat, while females only take account of the disadvantages and drawbacks. Women avoid the risk of accidents associated with professions such as lumberjacks, metal workers or pilots, and 90 percent of all fatal accidents are initiated by men. Men seek out more dangerous situations in their leisure time, and they more often take to destructive “hobbies” such as drug addiction. Among 8700 American citizens who had been honored for heroism for the rescue of someone drowning or threatened by flames, only 9 percent were females.

While the stronger sex shows the well known "Fight-or-flight” response pattern in stressful situations, the female anti-stress strategy is called "tend and befriend", as Shelley Taylor, professor of psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles, found out. In dangerous or difficult situations, women care intensively for their children and are looking for loyalty and proximity to other members of their group. Hormones seem to be responsible for this sex difference: While the male hormone testosterone produces typical symptoms of stress such as an increase in blood pressure, heart palpitations or sweating, in the female body the reproductive hormone oxytocin is more active during stress. This hormone not only plays an important role in the development of attachment behavior, but also has a calming effect. When psychologist Jack van Honk from the University of Utrecht administered testosterone to female subjects, they abruptly inverted while gambling and chose the male high-risk strategy.

If gender differences were actually only conditioned by the social environment, they should have shrunk because of the approximation of the working and living conditions in modern societies. This was also the assumption of a research group led by psychologist David P. Schmitt from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, which analyzed the data of 17,673 people from 55 nations. As it turned out however, the opposite was true: In modern cultures, the character differences between the sexes were most pronounced, while they had much less weight in traditional cultures. This could be due to the fact that the bare subsistence is reasonably assured in modern societies, the researchers believe. This gives contemporaries more leeway to cultivate traits that are considered typically male or female. Many men in modern cultures make use of this freedom by celebrating a cult of masculinity, by acting out their typical male impulses and thus enlarging the gap between themselves and the female world.

There are two basic ideas about gender differences we should distinguish quite unexcitedly: A moral demand, which states that no person shall be discriminated against because of their sex. And an empirically testable statement that says men and women are cut "from the same cloth". The second hypothesis we should pit without blinders against the most imaginative and smartest research findings. Some behaviors apparently come naturally to men; certain goals have a higher incentive value for the female mind. There is little doubt that we all have the potential to act against our biological nature. However, we then must operate more laboriously and try harder. But even if we succeed in doing this, it will probably afford us little pleasure, because the reward mechanisms in our brain are hardly created for this type of play-acting.

More good stuff on sex:

When sex goes stale through repetition:

No escape from a sex starved world

If there was a God, the clitoris would sit in the vagina

Pleasures of the flesh – and of the palate

Sex under false pretenses

Sodom and Kandahar: How the invisibility of adult women leads to sick  twists in male sexuality
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