Cat meet pigeons

It is a commonly held belief, certainly among the fairer sex, that women are better at multitasking than men.
And scientists have now discovered that women undergoing a sex change start to think more like men after treatment as their brains are rewired.
Researchers studied the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexuals before and after four weeks of testosterone treatment.
They found that qualities more traditionally attributed to women, such as verbal and multitasking skills, diminished, while others increased.
Exposure to the male hormone almost immediately reduced the volume of grey matter in the two regions of the brain linked to language processing.
At the same time, connections between the two regions became stronger, increasing spatial ability.
Researcher Professor Rupert Lanzenberger, from the University of Vienna, said: “What we see is a real quantitative difference in brain structure after prolonged exposure to testosterone. This would have been impossible to understand without looking at a transsexual population.
“In more general terms, these findings may suggest that the genuine difference between the brains of women and men is substantially attributable to the effects of circulating sex hormones. Moreover, the hormonal influence on human brain structure goes beyond early developmental phases and is still present in adulthood.”

All rather what Simon Baron Cohen has been talking about, EQ, SQ, male and female brains and all that.

All rather unremarkable in fact: no one with any connection to reality thinks any differently.

And yet there are those who insist that everything is culture, imprinting, that men and women are exactly the same underneath it all. They thus push for outcome equality…..

But if there are real and actual differences in the brain (and as Baron Cohen is the first to point out, this is about averages, we tend to find women at one end of the spectrum, men another, but any individual can be anywhere) then things like female equal representation in coding or engineering might just not be what our species was cut out for.

47 thoughts on “Cat meet pigeons”

  1. I have long held the impression that the much-vaunted ‘multi-tasking’ is simply an expression which denotes the attempt to perform several tasks at the same time, all of them badly…

  2. They found that qualities more traditionally attributed to women, such as verbal and multitasking skills, diminished, while others increased.

    Exposure to the male hormone almost immediately reduced the volume of grey matter in the two regions of the brain linked to language processing.
    At the same time, connections between the two regions became stronger, increasing spatial ability.

    So this is why women can’t reverse park, but can eat Maltesers, read their iPhones, and nag you… all at the same time.

    things like female equal representation in coding or engineering might just not be what our species was cut out for.

    Not with that sort of sexist attitude! Feminist science teaches us that girls are better than boys by every conceivable metric.

    Conceivable? Get it? Because women create life, men only destroy it! 🙁

    As I keep saying, feminism is about equality for everybody, people! And if you don’t agree, you can shut your big fat ugly white male pig mouth!

    Sadly, the finest minds of our generation are too busy studying aspects of gendered oppression in Thomas the Tank Engine and looking for herspiration from fictional child-murdering crones to have the time to build spaceships or computer stuff.

    But if we just make sure engineering and maths textbooks have pictures of smiling girls on the front covers – preferably handicapable genderqueer womyn of colour – then everything’s going to work out just fine.

  3. “In more general terms, these findings may suggest that the genuine difference between the brains of women and men is substantially attributable to the effects of circulating sex hormones. Moreover, the hormonal influence on human brain structure goes beyond early developmental phases and is still present in adulthood.”

    There should be a reverse effect too if it’s sex hormones, shouldn’t there? And we have the perfect test subjects for that – the tens of thousands of blokes with advanced prostate cancer who are on heavy duty hormone blockers.

    Suddenly their testosterone is cut off over a long period. Do they become good at multi-tasking and their verbal skills increase. I venture not.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing some brain scans of those.

  4. Culture isn’t that powerful. Take the priesthood. Hundreds of years of it being an all-male preserve, and within 30 years of accepting women priests, they’re now the majority of ordained priests.

    Or marriage. Thousands of years of valuing virginity blown away in 30 years because of technology.

    Culture introduces some drag, but technology has a much bigger effect on things.

    As for coding, the problem is that most women lack the problem-solving of men. It’s also what makes women better business analysts than men, in that they get information about a business and document it, where men are trying to get to the “fixing” point.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    I doubt I would dispute any of the conclusions but a study of only eighteen people is ….. small.

    Likely to be worthless in fact.

    That is not to say that they are wrong. Stopped clocks and all that. Or pigs rooting for acorns under an oak tree perhaps. But it is not the most robust of studies given the small sample size.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    The Stigler – “Culture isn’t that powerful. Take the priesthood. Hundreds of years of it being an all-male preserve, and within 30 years of accepting women priests, they’re now the majority of ordained priests.”

    Except that the institution is not the same. The word is the same but not much else is. If nothing else, Margaret Mead’s Law – society values what men do, not what women do – insures that.

    “Or marriage. Thousands of years of valuing virginity blown away in 30 years because of technology.”

    I am not convinced of that either. The institution has changed in the sense that people don’t need children to support them in their old age. Men never much wanted them, on the whole, anyway. So what men want in a partner has shifted from a wife and mother – insuring the child is theirs – to a friend with benefits – insuring the sex is good.

    Virginity is important for the former, it is irrelevant to the latter. Any society that decides to commit suicide by refusing to reproduce will have the same result regardless of the technology. It is not as if there weren’t pre-modern forms of contraception, abortion and infanticide.

  7. Rob: I’m fairly sure that whole “multi-tasking” thing is bullshit.

    Try thinking of it in terms of being an inability to focus single-mindedly on one thing at a time.

  8. bloke (not) in spain

    Since others have dealt with the multitasking myth, verbal skills?
    Ability to prattle, surely not?
    If they’re talking about the more often claimed communication superiority, WTF’s that all about? They certainly communicate with a great deal of output. But not much of it succeeds in becoming input. Half the time, when you’ve had that lengthy earbashing, you’ve still no idea what the actual subject of it was. Let alone the object.

  9. Anecdote: I remember watching a programme some years ago about people undergoing gender reassignment. They interviewed a girl (late teens I guess) who had just started with testosterone. One of the things she said was that she suddenly started to notice all the women’s boobs. Previously, as a woman, they hadn’t come to conscious notice, but now the effect of the testosterone on her brain had raised their profile, as it were.

  10. Doctor, Doctor! I think I’ve got bird flu!

    I see. What are the symptoms?

    I chatter incessantly and can’t park the car…

  11. Women’s much vaunted multitasking skills are a serious threat to road safety, because they actually do believe they can drive, do their make-up, text, phone and scream at the kids in the back all at the same time…

  12. I once had a girlfriend who had to take testosterone for a few weeks for medical reasons (too long ago now to remermber the reasons). She said that while on the testosterone she felt more intelligent, her mind didn’t seem so vague, and everything seemed much clearer to her. I’m really not making this up. She sometimes said she wished she could take it again.

  13. B (n)is

    You’re right, of course. But, to be fair, language has many functions besides the communication of information, eg venting of emotion.

  14. Oh dear. As SMFS says, a sample of 18 is useless.
    Worse, a group of women who think they’re men is not a representative sample of women. Or men.

  15. bloke (not) in spain

    Speaking as someone who’s accustomed to having a great deal of emotion vented at them , I can’t argue with you, Theo.

  16. The important part is the magnitude of the effect, which isn’t large enough to support this:

    “things like female equal representation in coding or engineering might just not be what our species was cut out for.”

  17. I like Doug’s reverse test, of men with hormone blockers.

    But there’s a snag here too, maybe it’s called the Freud paradox. That is, extrapolating from an unhealthy population to make general rules about the healthy.

  18. “I doubt I would dispute any of the conclusions but a study of only eighteen people is ….. small.”

    Let’s be honest though, there simply aren’t many women who want to become men. Despite all their whining to the contrary, women know they’ve got a pretty sweet deal going. Becoming a man would mean they’d have to start taking responsibility for their actions for a start.

  19. Danny, you just reminded me of when I was about 10 years old in the back seat of my mum’s car in a car park. I had said something to upset her and she turned around to bollock me. As she did so she put her foot down on the accelerator and drove her new BMW into a wall. Multi-tasking my arse.

  20. Multi-tasking is possible, indeed is quite common, if you only need part of your brain to do each task and the bits don’t overlap too much or each only requires intermittent use of the brain. Think of Johnny Wilkinson doing a drop-kick while dodging or how often we sort out a mental problem while going on a run.
    I occasionally multi-task – but never when I’m driving.

  21. bloke (not) in spain

    @john77
    What do you think you’re doing when you’re driving? Or do you do the woman thing & look at the gear lever every time you change?

  22. @ b(n)is
    Driving is a single complex task.
    What I do not do is talk on a mobile ‘phone, or watch dolly birds, or discuss the architecture of an “interesting house” which I could see if I took my eyes off the road, or engage in any discussion which requires a non-negligible fraction of my brain.
    The engine noise and/or rev counter will tell me if I’m in the wrong gear and I can feel where the gear lever is when I put my hand on it – it’s part of the spatial ability thing – so I don’t need to look.

  23. Bloke in Costa Rica

    The single-mindedness thing is certainly true in my line of work. I was so fixated on writing a piece of code the other day that I didn’t even notice when a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while popped into the office for half an hour and wandered around talking to people. It must have looked positively autistic.

  24. @ The Meissen Bison
    What you really mean is that *people who yatter on* about “multi-tasking” usually do so because they are unable or, more often, unwilling to concentrate.
    As a precocious brat growing up in a household which could have four conversations going on in a room containing four people, I replaced “I can’t do two things at once” with “I can only do three things at once” as a one-upmanship “go-away” response. In my late twenties when we were horrendously understaffed or overworked (take your pick) I started using it again until one of my colleagues (an Actuary, of course) pointed out that I was actually doing six things simultaneously when I said it: so I stopped (he was gently making clear to me that it was a very irritating habit). But I can get just as single-minded as BiCR, to the point where I just don’t hear things, or forget to eat. So ability to concentrate and ability to multi-task are not necessarily mutually exclusive

  25. Did anyone of you watch the mythbusters programme on this ? Men did do certain tasks better and certain tasks less well but women tended to get better average results across the whole portfolio of tasks.

    But I still rage when the cashier stops scanning to have a chat with a colleague about Downton

  26. bloke (not) in spain

    john77
    “Driving is a single complex task.”
    It was shown decades ago that’s not how we tackle things like driving. What we actually do is sequentially do a lot of things very quickly.
    It’s something one learns about, learning to fly. Getting the sequence right. The priorities correct. Not getting fixated on one aspect to the exclusion of others. Like being so engrossed in a landing approach you neglect to let the wheels down. .
    Some people can manage higher work rates.
    I’d think nothing of driving, holding a conversation, checking the mirrors, navigating, listening to the radio & negotiating Central London traffic. Usually roll a cigarette whilst I’m doing it. it’s relaxing.
    But I’ve done a helluva lot of negotiating Central London traffic. Without hitting anything, too!!
    That said, how one flies a low level attack profile in a fast jet is beyond me. But they do it.

  27. So Much For Subtlety

    Tractor Gent – “They interviewed a girl (late teens I guess) who had just started with testosterone. One of the things she said was that she suddenly started to notice all the women’s boobs.”

    Germaine Greer, I think, went on Hormone replacement therapy and they must have got the dosage wrong. As she claimed she felt what it must be like to be a rapist.

    Although she is Germaine and so virtually everything out of her mouth is, at best, wrong or deluded.

  28. So Much For Subtlety

    Diogenes – “Did anyone of you watch the mythbusters programme on this ? Men did do certain tasks better and certain tasks less well but women tended to get better average results across the whole portfolio of tasks.”

    Tasks that were mostly related to driving if I remember right.

    The fact is women do not excel at any profession requiring higher level cognitive function. Not anywhere in the world. Men dominate those fields. The more the field demands intelligence, the fewer women there are in it. This is the reality.

    Why that should be is interesting. But of course the only socially acceptable reason is because men is sexist innit?

    “But I still rage when the cashier stops scanning to have a chat with a colleague about Downton”

    Would it be any more acceptable if he stopped to have a chat about the inability of the refs to apply the off side rule correctly?

  29. bloke (not) in spain

    To be fair, SMfS – not a thing a confirmed alpha male undertakes lightly in a context such as this – you’re simply assigning a yardstick – higher level cognitive function – to an otherwise undefined value – intelligence – & saying having one proves possession of t’other.
    Apply a different yardstick – ability to walk & chew gum at the same time – and what happens to your higher cognitive thinkers?
    If we say intelligence is the survival characteristic humans have evolved that makes them human, then your higher cognitive thinkers have a survival potential of a snowball in the Sahara at noon. Judging by many higher cognitive thinkers.
    It’s a specialisation. As would be a very small brain & a very thick skull. Useful if trying to shell tortoises with the forehead. If confronted by a pressing lunch need, which would the intelligent choose?

  30. So Much For Subtlety

    bloke (not) in spain – “you’re simply assigning a yardstick – higher level cognitive function – to an otherwise undefined value – intelligence – & saying having one proves possession of t’other.”

    Well you could argue that the two are separate. But the point would still hold. There is something going on here. Whether or not intelligence is measurable, or is a good indicator of anything, or exists at all, men do better than women in the real world. It would be nice if we were allowed to discuss why this is. But we are not. This is despite 40 years of affirmative action and discrimination against males in the Western world as well.

    “Apply a different yardstick – ability to walk & chew gum at the same time – and what happens to your higher cognitive thinkers?”

    Well that is a good point.

    “It’s a specialisation. As would be a very small brain & a very thick skull. Useful if trying to shell tortoises with the forehead. If confronted by a pressing lunch need, which would the intelligent choose?”

    IQ is a remarkably good measure of a lot of things. I am dubious about what exactly it measures, but it is an excellent predictor of academic success for instance. But it is also an excellent predictor of, for instance, being a good truck driver. I am not sure IQ tests measure intelligence, but whatever they do measure is important to how a vast range of people do their jobs. Some people at the top end might be too smart to know their ar$e from their elbow, but on the whole, “intelligence” matters in pretty much everything we do. Most criminals, for instance, are caught because they do really dumb things by all accounts.

  31. SMFS

    “The fact is women do not excel at any profession requiring higher level cognitive function. Not anywhere in the world. Men dominate those fields. The more the field demands intelligence, the fewer women there are in it.”

    Medicine, law…?
    What probably have held women back are menstruation and pregnancy, not ‘sexism’.

  32. So Much For Subtlety

    Theophrastus – “Medicine, law…?”

    Medicine is becoming more female as there has been a wholesale push to get more women into university in general and medicine specifically. But still, most women choose to work with children and to work part time. The harder parts of medicine still tend to be male.

    “What probably have held women back are menstruation and pregnancy, not ‘sexism’.”

    I agree. Up to about 1900. After that? Perhaps not so much. Especially not in the last 40 years where pregnancy has not been an issue. If you mean most women prefer to stay at home while their devoted husbands go out and kill themselves to support their wives’ lives of idle shopping, sure. That is probably a factor. It does not have to be an intellect problem. But as David Stove noted, the Church provided a life without pregnancy for women where they could have devoted themselves to scholarship. Yet it is hard to find many intellectually distinguished nuns.

  33. From memory, the Mythbuster’s multi-tasking test involved getting dressed, preparing breakfast, while ensuring that a crawling baby did not move outside a certain perimeter. The women were much better than the men at getting everything done or nearly complete in the allotted time.

  34. So Much For Subtlety

    diogenes – “From memory, the Mythbuster’s multi-tasking test involved getting dressed, preparing breakfast, while ensuring that a crawling baby did not move outside a certain perimeter. The women were much better than the men at getting everything done or nearly complete in the allotted time.”

    From Wikipedia there have been two episodes testing this:

    183 5 “Battle of the Sexes”[27] April 22, 2012 201
    Myths tested:
    Are men or women better at driving?
    Are men or women better at reading facial emotions?
    Are men or women better at grilling?
    Are men or women better at map-reading?
    Are men or women better at packing the car for a trip?

    201 5 “Battle of the Sexes: Round 2″[31] May 29, 2013 222
    Myths tested:
    Will lost men really not stop and ask for directions?
    Are women better multi-taskers?
    Are women better at parallel parking?
    And should “throwing like a girl” really be an insult?

    The second one tested “multi-tasking”.

    The Build Team devised a “morning routine” test where the subjects had to get dressed, iron clothes, make tea, toast and a sandwich within five minutes while answering three trivia questions over a cell phone and ensuring that a robotic baby Buster did not crawl outside of a marked zone within the stage area. Each test subject began with a base score of 100, with deductions of 10 points apiece for failed or incomplete tasks. Ten women achieved an average score of 72, while ten men averaged 64.

    This is not a test of multitasking but of a woman’s traditional domestic routine. Given a lot of women will have some prior exposure to these tasks and some men will have little or none, it is not really a test of anyone’s ability to multitask.

  35. @SMFS Although she is Germaine and so virtually everything out of her mouth is, at best, wrong or deluded.
    you got the wrong feminist there, dude.

  36. SMFS

    so what is the “male” version of the multi-tasking test?

    For what it’s worth, I have had to do the “traditional” woman’s household tasks, while my wife was on a work assignment overseas and it was difficult to keep my eyes on all the balls. Are you going to assert that only women should look after children and cook and do domestic tasks?

  37. So Much For Subtlety

    diogenes – “so what is the “male” version of the multi-tasking test?”

    I don’t know – chugging a beer, changing the channels and whacking off to porn at the same time?

    “For what it’s worth, I have had to do the “traditional” woman’s household tasks, while my wife was on a work assignment overseas and it was difficult to keep my eyes on all the balls. Are you going to assert that only women should look after children and cook and do domestic tasks?”

    Actually I might. But that was not my point. If you pick Team A and Team B and set them a series of tasks, it matters if Team B actually has prior experience of said tasks. If you let Team B drive around the track for 3 weeks before racing Team A, who have never seen it before, then you are not going to get a fair comparison.

    You pick a series of typically female tasks, even though not all the women on the team will have done them all, even though some of the men on the other team will have, the female team will have a massive advantage. They have done those tasks before. Men might be able to multitask perfectly well, but fall down on the ironing because no one on the team had seen one before.

  38. @ diogenes
    When we got married I was better than my wife at just about every household task but because we divided them she is now better at nearly all of those in her selection of tasks. Lack of practice makes rusty and imperfect.
    Since men’s clothes take longer to put on properly than women’s, it wasn’t a like-for-like test on that either. How about a new test which requires the women to don a three-piece suit and tie a tie properly while the men slip into a T-shirt and jeans?

  39. So Much For Subtlety

    diogenes – “you are coming across as a bit of a berk. perhaps you should sober up and try again.”

    I doubt that would work. The important point is that while Mythbusters do interesting things, by and large, and do understand how to construct a sensible experiment most of the time, in this case they screwed up. It is not that their experiment shows men are better rather than women. It is that in this case, the test is too biased to tell us anything much.

    john77 – “How about a new test which requires the women to don a three-piece suit and tie a tie properly while the men slip into a T-shirt and jeans?”

    The Germans were ahead of the Allies in psychology during World War Two. They also used psychological testing extensively. We could use their test for being a truck driver:

    “The one administered to would-be truck drivers, for example, was designed to examine the power of sustained attention in the presence of occasionally introduced distractions, uniformity of reaction, choice behavior, rate of learning and fatigability. The apparatus consisted of five lights of differing shape and color; in addition two rattles could be sounded, one from the right, another from the left. The examinee, sitting in front of a screen, had three levers and two foot pedals to operate. The lights were flashed on and the observer told the examinee which of the three levers was to be pulled with each of the five lights. One of the pedals had to be pressed with the sound of one of the rattles. The subject was given time to work himself in, but was not told the moment at which the test actually started. During a twenty minute test, six hundred stimuli were presented in a predetermined random order and the examinee’s responses and reaction times were automatically recorded. Not merely his actual performance, however, but his entire behavior was carefully noted by the hidden observer. Security of conduct, efficiency of movements and facial expressions were all noticed. The final result depended not so much on mechanical performance as on the examinee’s overall attitude and his ability to cope.”

    That should do it. Although I think I have discovered why they lost the war – all this for driving a damn truck?

  40. The Build Team devised a “morning routine” test where the subjects had to get dressed, iron clothes, make tea, toast and a sandwich within five minutes while answering three trivia questions over a cell phone and ensuring that a robotic baby Buster did not crawl outside of a marked zone within the stage area.

    I saw that episode, and noted that none of the subjects broadcast thought of the obvious solution of putting the robobaby in the sink so it couldn’t crawl anywhere.

  41. There’s a long-standing fact that occupations drop in status if a lot of women start doing them, and rise in status if a lot of men start doing them. Some good examples include secretary (very high-status until the late nineteenth-century, which is why the cabinet are Secretaries of State), personnel manager (dropping in status as they have become “the HR girl”), computer programmer (rose in status as they went from mostly-female in the 1950s to mostly-male in the 1980s) and school teacher (more female, lower status).

    If men and women are, as statistical averages, better at some jobs than others, then addressing the status differential between male and female jobs can’t be achieved by simply making all jobs 50:50 – and it makes it more imperative to find a way to enable a mostly-female job to be high-status.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *