This is the title of a new book about biological sex differences. The first I heard about the book is today's article in the UK Telegraph. The bolded bit at the beginning of the article gives us all the clickbait anyone would wish for:
Yes, it's official, men are from Mars and women from Venus, and here's the science to prove itAfter all that the article itself is quite disappointing, because everything in it is pretty old hat. Wolpert argues that men are more promiscuous than women because of that evolutionary biology "hard science" which took a time machine and went back to prehistory and decided that the most promiscuous men left the largest numbers of children, all with hard-wired promiscuity gene. Oh, except for the female children, of course.
In his fascinating new book the developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert argues that there is actually hard science behind many of our stereotypical gender roles
Then there's the problem of trying to figure out who the men are promiscuous with if they are heterosexual. Either women, too, are promiscuous (which even the more recent evolutionary psychology stuff admits to) or a small number of women are extremely promiscuous.
Wolpert places a lot of weight on Simon Baron-Cohen's research in this piece. For instance, the mechanical mobile vs. face study is one in which Baron-Cohen participated:
A few hours after birth, girls are more sensitive than boys to touch, and 40 hours after birth girls look longer at a face than boys, while boys look longer at a suspended mechanical mobile.Perhaps this study (on very young infants) has been replicated by someone later, but when I looked into it a couple of years ago I didn't find any evidence that it had ever been replicated. The study was been criticized by Elizabeth Spelke in 2005 and by Alison Nash and Giordana Grossi in 2007. I strongly recommend reading those criticisms, because one of the magical tricks in the writings of this field is to present a particular piece of research as the very-final-and-confirmed scientific truth when, in fact, the debate in the field continues.
Can you spot the difficulty of responding to something like this piece by Wolpert? Almost every sentence he writes makes me think of references that show otherwise or at least cast doubt on his statements. For instance, the stuff about women being better at empathy than men doesn't necessarily mean (if true) that the differences are inborn, and distinguishing between reported empathy and other measures of empathy may matter.
But none of that is visible in Wolpert's arguments:
Emotional differences are also manifest. Almost the opposite of aggression is empathy, an emotion that marks a fundamental difference between the two sexes, being much stronger in women. Empathy is the ability to share others’ feelings, to take a positive interest in them and to decode non-verbal emotional cues. Simon Baron-Cohen’s theory is that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, while the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for systemising, that is, for understanding and building systems.The problems with Baron-Cohen's systemising vs. emphatizing theory are many and serious. I have written about them before, but in case you missed it, a VERY long excerpt from my files is attached to the bottom of this post. It's important to understand what the evidence for Baron-Cohen's theory really looks like, so do take a few minutes to read that excerpt after the asterisk.*