Tag Archives: Sex Differences

Driving The Patriarchy: Demonic Males, Feminism, and Genetic Determinism

Behaviors are not caused by genes. There is not a gene that causes you to be good, or to be bad, or to be smart, or good at accounting, or to like bananas. There are, however, drives. “Drives” is a nicely vague term that we can all understand the meaning of. Thirst and hunger are drives we can all relate to. In fact, these drives are so basic, consistent and powerful that almost everyone has them, we share almost exact experiences in relation to them, and they can drive (as drives are wont to do) us to do extreme things when they are not met for long periods of time. While eating disorders are common enough and these affect a hunger drive, it is very rare to find a person thirst themselves to death.
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Falsehoods: Human Universals

There are human universals. There, I said it. Now give me about a half hour to explain why this is both correct and a Falsehood. But first, some background and definition.
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What is the most important human adaptation?

Human infants require more care than they should, if we form our expectations based on closely related species (apes, and more generally, Old World simian primates). It has been said that humans are born three months early. This is not accurate. It was thought that our body size predicted a 12 month gestation, and some suggested that Neanderthals would have had such, but this research conclusion has been set aside based on new analysis. But it is still true that developmentally, human children do not reach a stage of development that allows some degree of self care for a very long time compared to apes. The actual sequence of development is not directly comparable: It is not the case that after a certain amount of time humans reach a specific stage reached earlier in the lifecycle by Chimpanzees, as the differences are more complicated than that. For the present purposes, we can characterize the human condition for early development like this: Human babies are more helpless in more ways and for longer than comparable ape babies.
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Delusions of Gender

This Friday’s Skeptically Speaking will feature …

… academic psychologist Dr. Cordelia Fine. Her new book, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, challenges the assumption that gender roles are wired into our brains, and shows us how ubiquitous cultural stereotypes are mistaken for actual fact.

That will be a life discussion with Desiree Schell.

Also, this Friday’s edition of Skeptically Speaking will have the latest “Everything You Know is Sort of Wrong” in which Greg Laden (whoever the heck that is) asks if modern hobbies are an evolutionary consequence of prehistoric gender roles.

Desiree and I just finished recording that, and it went fairly well considering that we are both in the latter stages of a very nasty upper respiratory viral infection. I’m sure she can edit out the coughing and hacking.

You can listen live on line here.

Why do women shop and men hunt?

Or, when the hunting season is closed, watch teh game (the guys), or when there are no sales, admire each other’s shoes (the gals)?

This is, of course, a parody of the sociobiological, or in modern parlance, the “evolutionary psychology” argument linking behaviors that evolved in our species during the long slog known as The Pleistocene with today’s behavior in the modern predator-free food-rich world. And, it is a very sound argument. If, by “sound” you mean “sounds good unless you listen really hard.”

I list this argument among the falsehoods, but really, this is a category of argument with numerous little sub-arguments, and one about which I could write as many blog posts as I have fingers and toes, which means, at least twenty. (Apparently there was some pentaldactylsim in my ancestry, and I must admit that I’ll never really know what they cut off when I was born, if anything.)

Before going into this discussion I think it is wise, if against my nature, to tell you what the outcome will be: There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women’s fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game. At the same time, there is a good argument to be made that men and women should have different hard wired behavioral proclivities, if there are any hard wired behavioral proclivities in our species. And, I’m afraid, the validity from an individual’s perspective of the various arguments that men and women are genetically programmed to be different (in ways that make biological sense) is normally determined by the background and politics of the observer and not the science. I am trained in behavioral biology, I was taught by the leading sociobiologists, I’ve carried out research in this area, and I was even present, somewhat admiringly, at the very birth of Evolutionary Psychology, in Room 14A in the Peabody Museum at Harvard, in the 1980s. So, if anyone is going to be a supporter of evolutionary psychology, it’s me.

But I’m not. Let me ‘splain….
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Chimpanzee Food Sharing

Is chimpanzee food sharing an example of food for sex?

One of the most important transitions in human evolution may have been the incorporation of regular food sharing into the day to day ecology of our species or our ancestors. Although this has been recognized as potentially significant for some time, it was probably the Africanist archaeologist Glynn Isaac who impressed on the academic community the importance of the origins of food sharing as a key evolutionary moment. At that time, food sharing among apes was thought to be very rare, outside of mother-infant dyads. Further research has shown that it is in fact rare … the vast majority of calories consumed by human foragers in certain societies and at certain times of the year comes from a sharing system, while the fast majority of calories consumed by chimpanzees is hand to mouth without sharing.
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Americans Who Don’t Identify with a Religion No Longer a Fringe Group

You’ve certainly heard of the ARIS 2008 survey from Trinity College. One of the more interesting aspects of the survey is the demonstration that there is a sex difference in patterns of religions identification. Below I give some links where this has been discussed, but I want to note that in many discussions one of the first things people say … quite reasonably … is that the differences seem small and potentially well within the normal sampling error of a survey.

The reason people think that is because they are accustom to survey data in relation to political polling where sample error is usualy 5% or 3% because of standard methodologies and sample sizes. The ARIS survey has a much lower error rate. The lower error rate does not mean the the conclusion is stronger than it might otherwise be. It means that it is less likely spurious than it might otherwise be. But, in this case, this certainly means that the differences between groups (mainly male vs. female) can not be written off as statistical artifacts. (Though they could easily be of little consequence. Or not.)

In order to help move this discussion beyond sample size questions, I am hereby reproducing salient portions of the Methodological Note for the recently widely discussed and blogged about survey “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

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Caster Semenya’s Gender: What would the science be?

Well, we don’t know because the necessary detailed information has not been released. I do not personally know the Caster Semenya story, medically or biologically speaking, but there has been a lot of discussion and apparently wild speculation on this, and I may have a thing or two to help clarify.

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The Natural Basis for Inequality of the Sexes

Is the Natural World a valid source of guidance for our behavior, morals, ethics, and other more mundane areas of thought such as how to build an airplane and what to eat for breakfast?1 When it comes to airplanes, you’d better be a servant to the rules of nature (such as gravity) or the airplane will go splat. When it comes to breakfast, it has been shown that knowing about our evolutionary history can be a more efficacious guide to good nutrition than the research employed by the FDA, but you can live without this approach and following FDA guidelines will not do you in. A naturalistic approach can work when it comes to behavior too, but there are consequences. You or someone you love would probably not like the consequences.
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Math gender gap is not genetic

Or to put it more accurately, yet another study seems to show that girls learn from their teachers, parents, and peers that they are not supposed to be good at math. Sterotypes can be fulfilled. Pleas stop doing that, everyone.

Here is some press on this story.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers continue to find evidence that shows there is no innate difference in the math ability of males and females.

“There is a persistent stereotype that girls and women are just not as good at math as boys and men,” said UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde. “And the data we have indicates that’s just not true. I really think it’s important to get that word out and to chip away at that myth.”

Hyde and Janet Mertz, UW-Madison professor of oncology, co-authored an analysis of data compiled on math performance at all levels in the United States and abroad. The report, titled “Gender, Culture and Mathematics Performance,” was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

I hope to eventually read the actual study. I’ll get back to you on that.

Ultimate Causes, Proximate Mechanisms

Why does a soldier throw himself on a hand grenade to save the lives of a half-dozen unrelated fellow soldiers? Why does someone run into a burning building they happen to be passing to save a child they don’t know? From a Darwinian perspective these seem to be enigmatic behaviors that would “select against” such individuals (or more properly, select against the heritable component of this behavior).

There are several possible explanations for this….
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More emotional intelligence = more orgasms

ResearchBlogging.orgAccording to a study just coming out in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, “variations in emotional intelligence–the ability to identify and manage emotions of one’s self and others–are associated with orgasmic frequency during intercourse and masturbation.”

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Male vs. Female Brains

The male and female human brains are different. Some of the better documented differences are similar to differences seen in other mammals. They are hard to find, very small, and may or may not be of great significance. Obviously, some are very important because they probably relate to such things as the ability … or lack thereof … to bear offspring. But this is hardly ever considered in the parodies we see of these differences.

[Repost from Gregladen.com]
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