Wednesday, September 10, 2008

As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen






New York Times
September 9, 2008
Findings

By JOHN TIERNEY


When men and women take personality tests, some of the old Mars-Venus stereotypes keep reappearing. On average, women are more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive. Men tend to be more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat. Clear differences appear in early childhood and never disappear.

What's not clear is the origin of these differences. Evolutionary psychologists contend that these are innate traits inherited from ancient hunters and gatherers. Another school of psychologists asserts that both sexes’ personalities have been shaped by traditional social roles, and that personality differences will shrink as women spend less time nurturing children and more time in jobs outside the home.

To test these hypotheses, a series of research teams have repeatedly analyzed personality tests taken by men and women in more than 60 countries around the world. For evolutionary psychologists, the bad news is that the size of the gender gap in personality varies among cultures. For social-role psychologists, the bad news is that the variation is going in the wrong direction. It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States. A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France. The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge.

These findings are so counterintuitive that some researchers have argued they must be because of cross-cultural problems with the personality tests. But after crunching new data from 40,000 men and women on six continents, David P. Schmitt and his colleagues conclude that the trends are real. Dr. Schmitt, a psychologist at Bradley University in Illinois and the director of the International Sexuality Description Project, suggests that as wealthy modern societies level external barriers between women and men, some ancient internal differences are being revived.

The biggest changes recorded by the researchers involve the personalities of men, not women. Men in traditional agricultural societies and poorer countries seem more cautious and anxious, less assertive and less competitive than men in the most progressive and rich countries of Europe and North America.

To explain these differences, Dr. Schmitt and his collaborators from Austria and Estonia point to the hardships of life in poorer countries. They note that in some other species, environmental stress tends to disproportionately affect the larger sex and mute costly secondary sexual characteristics (like male birds’ displays of plumage). And, they say, there are examples of stress muting biological sex differences in humans. For instance, the average disparity in height between men and women isn’t as pronounced in poor countries as it is in rich countries, because boys’ growth is disproportionately stunted by stresses like malnutrition and disease.

Personality is more complicated than height, of course, and Dr. Schmitt suggests it’s affected by not just the physical but also the social stresses in traditional agricultural societies. These villagers have had to adapt their personalities to rules, hierarchies and gender roles more constraining than those in modern Western countries — or in clans of hunter-gatherers.

“Humanity’s jaunt into monotheism, agriculturally based economies and the monopolization of power and resources by a few men was ‘unnatural’ in many ways,” Dr. Schmitt says, alluding to evidence that hunter-gatherers were relatively egalitarian. “In some ways modern progressive cultures are returning us psychologically to our hunter-gatherer roots,” he argues. “That means high sociopolitical gender equality over all, but with men and women expressing predisposed interests in different domains. Removing the stresses of traditional agricultural societies could allow men’s, and to a lesser extent women’s, more ‘natural’ personality traits to emerge.”

Some critics of this hypothesis question whether the international variations in personality have more to do with the way people in different cultures interpret questions on personality tests. (For more on this debate, go to www.nytimes.com/tierneylab.) The critics would like to see more direct measures of personality traits, and so would Dr. Schmitt. But he notes that there’s already an intriguing trend reported for one trait — competitiveness — based on direct measures of male and female runners.

Competitive running makes a good case study because, to mix athletic metaphors, it has offered a level playing field to women the past two decades in the United States. Similar numbers of males and females run on high school and college teams and in road races. Female runners have been competing for equal shares of prize money and receiving nearly 50 percent more scholarship aid from Division I colleges than their male counterparts, according to the N.C.A.A.

But these social changes have not shrunk a gender gap among runners analyzed by Robert Deaner, a psychologist at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, who classifies runners as relatively fast if they keep close to the pace of the world’s best runners of their own sex. When Dr. Deaner looks at, say, the top 40 finishers of each sex in a race, he typically finds two to four times as many relatively fast male runners as relatively fast female runners.

This large gender gap has persisted for two decades in all kinds of races — high school and college meets, elite and nonelite road races — and it jibes with other studies reporting that male runners train harder and are more motivated by competition, Dr. Deaner says. This enduring “sex difference in competitiveness,” he concludes, “must be considered a genuine failure for the sociocultural conditions hypothesis” that the personality gap will shrink as new roles open for women.

If he and Dr. Schmitt are right, then men and women shouldn’t expect to understand each other much better anytime soon. Things could get confusing if the personality gap widens further as the sexes become equal. But then, maybe it was that allure of the mysterious other that kept Mars and Venus together so long on the savanna.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Swedish Researchers Say 40 Percent Of Men Possess Gene Linked To Infidelity Among Voles

Male infidelity may be in genes
Genetic variant keys marital ill
By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
Article Last Updated: 09/02/2008 11:20:52 PM MDT


Men are more likely to be devoted and loyal husbands when they lack a particular variant of a gene that influences brain activity, researchers announced this week — the first time that science has shown a direct link between a man's genes and his aptitude for monogamy.

The finding is striking because it not only links the gene variant — which is present in two of every five men — with the risk of marital discord and divorce, but also appears to predict whether women involved with these men are likely to say their partners are emotionally close and available, or distant and disagreeable. The presence of the gene variant, or allele, also seems predictive of whether men get married or live with women without getting married.

"Men with two copies of the allele had twice the risk of experiencing marital dysfunction, with a threat of divorce during the last year, compared to men carrying one or no copies," said Hasse Walum, a behavioral geneticist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who led the study. "Women married to men with one or two copies of the allele scored lower on average on how satisfied they were with the relationship compared to women married to men with no copies."

The scientists studied men because the hormone being examined is known to play a larger role in their brains than in women's brains.

The finding set off a debate about whether people should conduct genetic tests to find out whether potential mates are bad marriage prospects. Several independent scientists called the discovery remarkable and elegant but disagreed over whether such information ought to be used in making personal decisions about love and marriage.

Walum said that the presence of the allele increased the risk of conjugal discord but that many other factors probably shape marital behavior. But he and other scientists said the study is the latest piece of evidence to show that biology — down to the level of individual genes — can play a powerful role in shaping complex human behavior.

In other words, if a man's culture, religion and family background each have a seat at the conference table that determines his attitudes toward marital fidelity and monogamy, his genes might well sit at the head of the table.

"There are many ways this information can help a man and his wife when they marry," said Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies romantic love. "Knowing there are biological weak links can help you overcome them."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Why Jamaican Runners did so well in the Olympics: the 'T' Factor



Excerpted from "The Athletic Prowesss of Jamaicans" by William Aiken,M.D., Jamaica Gleaner, November 22, 2006

"I wish to propose a hypothesis that addresses not only the aspect of Jamaica's raw athletic talent, but also encompasses an explanation of seemingly diverse phenomena as our high incidence of prostate cancer (one study found it to be by far the highest in the world at 304 / 100,000 men / year), our high crime rate (murder capital of the world status earlier this year), our high road traffic accident and fatality rate, and our alleged high levels of promiscuity.

What do these seemingly disparate phenomena, characteristic of Jamaican life, have in common? On close examination these phenomena are manifestations of high levels of aggressiveness and drive, high libidos, highly efficient muscles from persons of lean body mass and black ethnicity. On closer scrutiny all of these phenomena are either related to high circulating levels of testosterone or alternatively to high levels of responsiveness of testosterone receptors to circulating testosterone.

It has already been shown that the testosterone receptors of blacks are different genetically to those of whites and this difference confers increased responsiveness to testosterone. I propose that Jamaicans of primarily African descent have even greater testosterone responsiveness than blacks anywhere else.

The middle passage

But why should this be? I believe the answer to this lies in the slave ship routes within the Caribbean and the New World.

First, let us assume that all Africans who survived the trek from the African interior to the West African coast and subsequently the middle passage would have been more or less subject to the same inhumane conditions which would have produced a severe selection pressure that enabled only the fittest slaves to survive the journey.

My hypothesis is that for each incremental increase in the journey travelled, once the slave ships entered the Caribbean, there was a corresponding selection pressure which ensured that only the fittest of the fit slaves survived and furthermore the traits which enabled survival were somehow dependent on high levels of responsiveness to testosterone.

Characteristics such as aggression, determination, drive, strong bones, lean body mass, high surface area to body mass ratio, highly efficient and responsive muscles were probably all important for survival and are testosterone-dependent.

Since Jamaica was one of the last stops to be made by the slave ships it ensured that only the most resilient and fittest of slaves were alive to disembark in Jamaica.

This hypothesis is supported by a number of observations. African-Americans and Afro-Caribbean people are represented far more frequently in sprinting events than persons from Africa. Even more interesting is that as one goes westward within the Caribbean, sprinting prowess becomes more prevalent and reaches its peak by the time Jamaica and Bahamas are reached.

This hypothesis in no way minimises the important contributions of good sport administration, excellent coaching and proper nutrition but rather looks at one aspect of the puzzle in attempting to explain the raw athletic talent that seems to be disproportionately high in Jamaicans."

Dr. William Aiken is the head of Urology at the University Hospital of the West Indies and president of the Jamaica Urological Society; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.

Feminism and Freedom

Thomas Carlyle has ascribed the insights of genius to "cooperation with the tendency of the world."

“It is time to leave the question of the role of women in society up to Mother Nature--a difficult lady to fool. You have only to give women the same opportunities as men, and you will soon find out what is or is not in their nature. What is in women's nature to do they will do, and you won't be able to stop them. But you will also find, and so will they, that what is not in their nature, even if they are given every opportunity, they will not do, and you won't be able to make them do it.”

-Clare Boothe Luce, a conservative feminist who in her heyday in the 1940s was a popular playwright and a member of the U.S. Congress,

We know from common observation that women are markedly more nurturing and empathetic than men. The female tendency to be empathic and caring shows up very early in life. Female infants, for example, show greater distress and concern than male infants over the plight of others; this difference persists into adulthood. Women do not merely say they want to help others; they enter the helping and caring professions in great numbers. Even today, in an era when equal rights feminism is dominant in education, the media, and the women's movement, women continue to be vastly overrepresented in fields like nursing, social work, pediatrics, veterinary medicine, and early childhood education. The great nineteenth-century psychologist William James said that for men "the world is a theater for heroism." That may be an overstatement, but it finds a lot of support in modern social science--and evidence from everyday life. Women are numerically dominant in the helping professions; men prevail in the saving and rescuing vocations such as policemen, firefighters, and soldiers.

-Christine Hoff Sommers
Excerpted from Feminism and Freedom
AEI Online