[Photo by Mr November]
That’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m fed up with endless bogus stories claiming substantial differences between men and women which pass for news in the popular press. With the help of Janet Shibley Hyde of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and literally thousands of psychology studies, this myth can be banished forever (Hyde, 2005).
Hyde has reviewed evidence from studies on:
- Cognitive variables. Including reading comprehension, perceptual speed, science, mental rotation, spatial visualization, attribution of success to effort.
- Communication. Including assertive speech, self-disclosure to a stranger, smiling and understanding facial expression.
- Social and personality variables. Including aggression under provocation, helping behaviour, sexuality, leadership, agreeableness and extraversion.
- Psychological well-being. Including self-esteem, happiness, life satisfaction and coping.
- Motor behaviours. Including throw velocity, sprinting and flexibility.
- Miscellaneous. Including moral reasoning, cheating behaviour, computer use and job attribute preference.
Fully 78% of the differences between men and women are small or close to zero. There are three main areas of differences between men and women:
- Sexuality – in particular attitudes to sex in uncommitted relationships.
- Aggression – men are generally more aggressive.
- Motor performance – this is where the largest differences are seen with men being better at throwing, jumping, sprinting and so on.
The bottom line is that if someone tells you men are more aggressive, have better motor performance or have different attitudes to sex than women, then you can believe them. If it’s anything else, the differences between men and women are probably very small or non-existent.
Continued overinflated reports of differences between men and women are damaging to all of us:
- If men and women are told they ‘speak a different language’, they may not bother trying to patch up their relationships.
- If women continue to believe they are the ‘nurturers’, they may be penalised in the workplace. Similarly, men who believe they cannot be nurturant may be penalised in their family and relationships.
- If girls believe they cannot achieve in maths, this affects their actual achievement. Similarly, if boys think they are poor at communicating or working together, this may be detrimental to them.
Ultimately men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. We’re both from Earth, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60(6), 581-92.
Published: 1 September 2007