Essential Differences

I recently read The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male and Female Brain (Basic Books, 2003) by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge University. Anyone interested in the source and nature of gender differences (i.e., everyone) will find this an interesting book, and people with an interest in understanding autism are particularly encouraged to find a copy and read it.

First, some context. One line in the Proclamation proclaims, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” What exactly is “essential” to “gender” and “identity,” and how those terms relate to body and spirit, has been the subject of much speculation (for example, here, here, and here). These questions make the general topic of some interest to many LDS readers, but I don’t plan to directly address any of those questions. I’m just going to talk about the book, which is interesting enough all on its own.

Empathizers. The author was kind enough to summarize the book on page 1 as follows: “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” But he quickly relabels the “female brain” as type E, the “male brain” as type S, and notes that these attributes are distributed on something like a normal curve in both sexes. So there will be women who have type S brains and are good at systems stuff, and men who have type E brains and can hold deep, meaningful conversations with other humans, although the distribution for women is skewed in favor of type E and for men in favor of type S.

He defines empathizing as “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to them with an appropriate emotion.” He offers a whole chapter of evidence of the female brain, type E, as empathizer, drawn largely from developmental studies of children:

  • Style of play – Girls will bargain and persuade to get what they want, whereas boys will often just unempathetically push and shove. Given a set of ride-around cars, boys will play the ramming game; girls will generally avoid that sort of thing.
  • Concern – “Baby girls, as young as twelve months old, respond more empathetically to the distress of other people, showing greater concern for others through more sad looks, sympathetic vocalizations, and comforting behavior.”
  • Theory of Mind – “[B]y the age of three young girls are already ahead of boys in their ability to infer what people might be thinking or intending — that is, in using a ‘theory of mind.'”
  • Jealousy – Men report subjective distress to a partner’s imagined sexual infidelity; women react more to a partner’s becoming emotionally involved with another.
  • Hierarchies – In a group, boys are quick to establish a “dominance hierarchy” (I know this comes as a complete shock to most readers). Girls hang back, first being nice and establishing relationships. Later, they vie for social dominance using more subtle strategies like verbal put-downs and withholding communication or eye contact.
  • Eyes and Faces – “There are claims that from birth, female infants look longer at faces, and particularly at people’s eyes, while male infants are more likely to look at inanimate objects.”

Systematizers. Guys may be emotional and relationship clods, but they do have their own way of getting things done. The operative word here is “things.” “Systematizing is the drive to understand a system and to build one.” A system here means not just a mechanical system, but any input-output relationship or mechanism, which the author extends to include “math, physics, chemistry, astronomy, logic, music, military strategy, the climate, sailing, horticulture, and computer programming.” He missed pinball machines and computer games, but it’s still a nice list. This even extends to motor systems (guys just need to perfect swinging a golf club, juggling, or mastering that elusive but coolistic guitar riff) and classification systems (meticulously arranging that collection of 300 CDs in just the right way or collecting books full of observations from birdwatching or trainspotting).

Okay, that’s the first half of the book, and I didn’t even talk about the unnerving chapter on summer camp. Mull over this empathizing/systematizing model for awhile and a few strange things about your childhood might suddenly make some sense. The second half of the book covers culture (it does play a role), biology (the role of testosterone in the development of the male brain, even before birth), and the evolution of the male and female brain. While the thrust of the book is exploring differences, the author points out that although differences are real and measurable, they are still small differences in normal people. [We all, both guys and gals, learn to speak a language, make friends, and successfully order a cheeseburger and fries.]

Autism. But what about people at the extremes? That’s where autism enters the story. Baron-Cohen sees autism as an effect of “the extreme male brain”: very weak empathy and an overdeveloped need for systematizing things. This may make an individual only mildly dysfunctional and possibly quite successful, as in a man who simply has no interest in casual conversation and is happy spending all day alone in his laboratory or workshop tinkering with this or measuring that. Or it may become so extreme that an afflicted individual cannot relate to other people or even speak, and will exhibit obsessive interests in various unusual topics. The author also discusses Asperger Syndrome and the “autism spectrum.” These are not subjects I am really very familiar with, but what struck me is how understandable, even how natural albeit extreme, these conditions are following the author’s model and his discussion of empathizing and systematizing in the earlier sections of the book.

Meanwhile, back in Zion … I’m not sure how all this relates to our opening quotation — “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” — but it does seem to place gender differences in a natural rather than an artificial or culturally-induced context. And there seems to be some application of empathizing and systematizing to the functional roles that men and women occupy in the organization and function of LDS wards. Maybe women do compassionate service because they actually care about other people and talk to people who are sad or lonely. Whereas men (systematizers) will compute a home-teaching percentage which they put in a report that gets transmitted up the hierarchy to be discussed in a meeting (which is organized by a 9-item agenda and which produces a list of action items). Yes, it all makes a little more sense now.

80 comments for “Essential Differences

  1. January 5, 2008 at 7:28 am

    There’s always other levels to it though. For instance, women’s skew towards ’empathy’ can be seen as social ‘systemizing’ insofar as correctly identifying, feeling, understanding and responding to people’s emotional states permits them to fine tune and calibrate the individual units – persons – of the ‘social system’. Women in groups tend to swap this kind of information and share advice on calibrating the social system much as ‘system’ skewed geeky males would swap information on automobiles or computers to make them run better or more effeciently. The social ‘system’ interests and fascinates women the same way other ‘systems’ interest men.

    Likewise, men’s ’empathy’ with people may identify not so much what the person in front of them feels or needs at that moment but rather that there is dissatisfaction being expressed. They may reason that they can’t solve that person’s issue but that they can ‘make the world better’ for that person and everyone by applying themselves to invention, building and organising improvement in the way the world functions. This kind of empathy with humanity at large may be more generalised than the empathy of women but can be just as profound and emotionally felt a sense of empathy.

  2. mlu
    January 5, 2008 at 8:28 am

    I find the folkloric version of this to be consistent with the research and with informal observation:

    Men want to slay dragons. Women want to be loved.

    Both desires are also aspects of deity.

  3. Visorstuff
    January 5, 2008 at 10:46 am

    God also wants to slay dragons? :)

  4. Kristine
    January 5, 2008 at 11:04 am

    There are lots of things to like about Baron-Cohen’s work, and also some big questions to ask about it. It seems to me, though that in a Mormon context, the big theological tangle introduced by his work is whether gender differences that depend on brain function are part of the “natural man” which we are to overcome by work and grace, or whether these are, in fact, eternal characteristics. I see some big problems with concluding that women are “naturally” more empathetic, since empathy looks like charity, the development of which is one of our primary tasks in mortality. I see twin dangers for Zion-building in the too-easy conclusion that these differences reflect what God intends to be the eternal state of affairs: 1) we may let men off the hook for charitable activity and empathic suffering, leaving them free to build systems without enough regard for people who don’t thrive in their system, and 2) we excuse women from the difficult work of critical assessment of systems and let them suffer instead with depression and the maladies that arise from blaming oneself for systemic weaknesses.

    Worse yet, a too-thorough acceptance of these “natural” differences may lead us to conclude that men and women are so different from each other as to be unable to really learn from each other in the church. The fact that God also clearly ordains the male-female dyad as an important locus for salvific learning, through the institution of marriage, ought to at the very least raise questions about the appropriateness of letting subtle differences in brain function divide us comfortably into separate spheres in our church service.

  5. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2008 at 11:14 am

    What Kristine said.

    (When we had these discussions a few years ago, I always used to say that it was socially constructed because this concept of gender just didn’t match my reality. Now I wonder if I’m just hanging out at the end of the bell curve.)

  6. Adam Greenwood
    January 5, 2008 at 11:46 am

    “I see some big problems with concluding that women are “naturally” more empathetic, since empathy looks like charity, the development of which is one of our primary tasks in mortality.”

    This is mostly right. But one thing I’ve learned from my Catholic friends is that charity isn’t an emotion. Its the act of willing another’s good.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    January 5, 2008 at 11:56 am

    What I haven’t quite figured out is how ‘overlapping bell curves’ fit with the idea of eternal gender characteristics. Contra KHH, I’d say that temperamental differences are very good candidates for eternal gender characteristics, since I doubt that pre-mortal spirits are biologically equipped. But this doesn’t square well with the idea of overlapping bell curves. Unless we’re dealing with lots and lots of bell curves and folks generally tend to cluster ‘male’ or ‘female’ even if they overlap on some curves (which is how I feel about myself. I’m more verbally inclined than I am spatially, frinstance.).

    I actually have the same question about the idea of species. I think its fair to say that Mormonism generally sees species as being an eternal characteristic. But what exactly is it about our species that fits us to sit with God on the throne while others species are destined only to choir around it singing? If you try to point to any individual characteristic that defines humanity you will find persons at the extreme ends of the bell curve–those born with severe brain damage, for instance–who have this characteristic in mortality less than some animals do.

    I linked to this interesting article recently — — that answers the question, but the answer it gives is essentially a tautology. The essential difference of human nature that fits us to be transformed into Christs is that we are capable of being transformed into Christs.

  8. Rosalynde Welch
    January 5, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Empathy can impede the apprehension and exercise of moral reasoning and justice; systematizing can facilitate the kind of innovative organizing that Mormonism recognizes as creation. I don’t think we need to fear that the neuroscience of gender must lead to “women are naturally more righteous.”

    On a different note, the much-emailed NYT piece on disorganized boys got me wondering about how this phenomenon relates to Baron-Cohen’s schemata.

  9. Rosalynde Welch
    January 5, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    “But what exactly is it about our species that fits us to sit with God on the throne while others species are destined only to choir around it singing? If you try to point to any individual characteristic that defines humanity you will find persons at the extreme ends of the bell curve–those born with severe brain damage, for instance–who have this characteristic in mortality less than some animals do.”

    Adam, hmm, how to put this delicately. Perhaps humans are the only species with or through which God could reproduce?

  10. January 5, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Now I need to go get the book… thanks. (Wish I had heard of it before; I recall quoting Baron-Cohen in my *ahem* soon-to-be-published law review note, but I hadn’t seen this book).

  11. Gina
    January 5, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Like Adam the overlapping curves makes it difficult for me to assign any of these traits to my essential characteristics as a woman. My experience in my marriage is that both my husband and I seem to have nontraditional characteristics for our genders. Research like this is therefore kind of interesting to me, but I don’t really know how to apply it in any useful way to individuals. Even applying it in broad strokes to large organizations like the church is tricky since all the people towards the ends of their curves are doing things their brains might not be very well suited for and disallowed from doing things they might be very good at and naturally inclined towards. Granted, there are many other factors to consider in the roles we fill in church.

  12. Kristine
    January 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Rosalynde, I very much agree. It seems to me that a weakness of many religions, which Mormonism can partake of in spasms of accommodation, is the privileging of a sort of squishy emotional version of charity, which, as Adam rightly points out) is only tangentially related to the robustly willed caritas that Christ taught. When we overpraise women for empathic responses, which may be innate, and cost them nothing, we deny them the chance to practice costlier forms of discipleship–the pursuit of justice, the creative systematizing you point to, the sacrifice of emotional comfort when righteousness demands confrontation, etc. I imagine that praising men for their excellent statistic-gathering and handbook-writing would have similar distorting effects, but we don’t do that much in the church–we spend far more time enjoining them to develop patience, gentleness and other virtues which, on average, may be more difficult for males.

  13. mlu
    January 5, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    #3 In a manner of speaking, the dragon is understood as the personification of Satan. The great contest of earth is between Christ and the Dragon. Men live to take on the dragon.

    “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Rev 12:9 (and throughout much of Revelation

  14. Matt W.
    January 5, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Kristine: However, the church does encourage women to get all the scholastic education they can, to have their own organization, and to participate in organized active service.

  15. Jack
    January 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I agree, mlu. And as a result, men become more fouled than women by the blood and sins of their generation–and therefore require a more vigorous cleansing from such than women. “Who hath ears to hear…”

    Is it any wonder that so many men will praise–even to an obnoxious extreme–those virtues in women that seem almost untenable to them while in the flesh?

  16. January 5, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Nice comments, everyone. It seems that the thrust of the book and the research findings is that there are strong empathy/systematizing predispositions, correlated with but not determined by gender, which are hard-wired into the human brain, even before birth. This argues against the idea that it is all socially constructed or imposed. At the same time, the author is quite careful to note there will be systems-oriented females and empathetic males — but the general gender predispositions are there in the population. They’re just part of nature, it seems. How we deal with them is an entirely different question.

    There are straightforward applications that leap to mind. As a parent, knowing something about these predispositions seems helpful whether one is raising girls, boys, or both. As an individual, knowing something about these predispositions might further the quest to “know thyself” (or even “know thy spouse”). To educators, these predispositions seem consistent with all the recent talk about diverse learning styles.

  17. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Jack’s comment is a good illustration why many people are uncomfortable with this line of research. It is possible to accept the premise of biologically-based brain diversity without reaching the kinds of conclusions that Jack does–conclusions which undermine the agency and accountability of women

    There are many different ways to interpret the material that Jack cites as evidence for his position (of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate to get into that here). Applying the patina of science doesn’t make Jack’s views any more persuasive.

  18. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    Fwiw, my wife and I are so perfect for each others partly because we are so naturally different in so many ways. I really don’t know if “Godhood” is the joining of an actual “male” being with an actual “female” being creating a complete “godly” being, but it certainly rings true to me that “Godhood” is the state of becoming “complete, whole, fully developed” as “perfect” is defined in Mtthew 5:48. I personally think that means we only can become perfect by developing all good characteristics generally associated as “natural” to either man or woman (as detailed in the Sermon on the Mount). I know in my own marriage I have been able to learn how to “become” more complete, whole and fully developed because I interact regularly with someone who is very different than I.

    Maybe gender is an essential characteristic specifically because it is “naturally” limited and requires growth and combination and adaptation – the very process we preach as the development of Godhood.

  19. Rosalynde Welch
    January 5, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I wonder whether the conception of selfhood that depends on a sharp distinction between the “natural man” and “divine nature” is really a very tenable model, either scripturally, theologically or existentially. I understand why it’s useful: although JS jettisoned the traditional body/soul=depraved/glorious scheme inherited from the Greeks via Christianity, we’re still left with conflicting vectors in restoration scripture about natural man and divine nature, so we accommodate them both by amalgamating them into one. But as Kristine and Adam both point out, this throws us into confusion and uncertainty at every turn.

  20. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I forgot to add: Perhaps we need a spouse to reach Godhood specifically because it might be impossible for some (or all) to fully escape our natural characteristics and become complete, whole and fully developed strictly on our own.

  21. Rosalynde Welch
    January 5, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Ray, your sentiments in 18 are very sweet, and they’re shared by many LDS couples I know. But the neurological differences that S B-C describes between the sexes, and the behaviors that result, are not necessarily compatible and complementary; indeed, inasmuch as they are driven by different reproductive strategies, they’re very frequently in direct competition with one another. For me, this is at the heart of the biggest challenge that evolutionary perspectives pose for LDS ideas of the exalted sex-dyad, and indeed for providential-evolved creation generally: evolved sex differences tend not to cooperate but rather to compete with one another, that is men’s and women’s best interests most often do not coincide.

  22. Julie M. Smith
    January 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Rosalynde, I agree with #21 but wonder if these competing desires might be folded into LDS theology under the rubric of “opportunities to develop charity and patience.”

  23. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Rosalynde, doesn’t that argue even more forcefully for overcoming the natural (wo)man and becoming combined as one?

  24. Mark IV
    January 5, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Dave, could you elaborate a little more on the part of the book that covers the evolution of the male and female brains?

    I don’t think we allow enough for that when we try to explain the observable, non-biological differences between males and females. If a baby girl exhibits behavior that we typically associate with females and which is obviously not conditioned by her immediate surrounding culture, we LDS often think we are seeing part of her divinely ordained femininity. What else could it be? But our evolution over however many millenia has certainly selected for traits and behaviors. For instance, dogs have learned, over thousands of years of interaction with humans, to be very adept at “reading” faces and picking up emotional cues. But it would be ridiculous for us to therefore conclude that all dogs are female.

  25. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    #23 – to clarify: Can’t the process of development be seen as changing what seems to be a competition into a mutual process of adaptation and change and unification – of moving from the “natural/scientific” view of gender differences to a “spiritual” view?

  26. Mark IV
    January 5, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Follow-up to 24 –

    And it should go without saying that the traits inherited from previous generations are very likely to be part of the fallen world we are commanded to overcome.

  27. Jack
    January 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    “Applying the patina of science doesn’t make Jack’s views any more persuasive.”

    True. But then, science and theology–particularly that theology grounded in praxis–have never really been bosom buddies, have they? Theology will carve it’s own way how ever colored it may be by the “patina” of science.

  28. January 5, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Just wondering, if autism is an effect of the extreme male brain, does Baron-Cohen identify any effects of an extreme female brain?

  29. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    #28 – wanting to teach kindergarten?

  30. January 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Sacha Baron Cohen makes pretty good movies, I guess I’ll have to try out his book. Thanks for the tip.

  31. ed johnson
    January 5, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Adam says: “What I haven’t quite figured out is how ‘overlapping bell curves’ fit with the idea of eternal gender characteristics.”

    Amen to that. This study just says that there are individual characteristics that tend to vary with gender. This could be seen as a rebuke to some strands of feminism that see any statistical difference in outcomes as proof of oppression, but it’s might also be a rebuke to those who try to force every individual into some specified “role” based on his or her gender.

  32. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    One more comment: The Proclamation to the World says that there are “primary” roles for men and women, but that men and women are “obligated” to help one another in these roles as “equal partners”. That seems to mean that, although primary roles exist, they are not to define exclusively what we do and “separate” us; rather, we are to unite and work together across the natural distinctions of gender. It seems to say that the most important thing is not the distinction but rather the obligation to partner.

    I don’t see the assertions of this book – or at least Dave’s summary of them – as incompatible with or opposed to that statement. The book seems to lay out the science of gender distinction; the statement seems to take the next step and say, “So what now?”

  33. Jack
    January 5, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    It amazes me! People will believe anything they see in print–like this new book that “proves” that men and women have biological differences.

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

  34. East Coast
    January 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    #30 Neither Simon (author and Cambridge University professor) nor his cousin Sacha (Borat) seem to mind controversy. They both seem to come out swinging in whatever they do.

  35. Adam Greenwood
    January 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    “Adam, hmm, how to put this delicately. Perhaps humans are the only species with or through which God could reproduce?”

    By this definition only women are people and only some of them. I don’t think we can make fertility the criterion of personhood, because not all people are fertile in this life. I’m sure that wasn’t what you meant, but I don’t know what else you could mean. Unless we say that creating spirit children really is some kind of progenitive process that only human spirits are capable of. In which case we’d say that the difference between men and animals is that men are begotten, not made. Because if we assume that animal spirits are also ‘begotten’, even if by animal progenitors, then we’re back to having to come up with some other kind of explanation.

  36. CraigH
    January 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    So far the discussion has focused on the male to female spectrum, and on the relatively simple question of what this might mean for gender roles and identity. I say “relatively,” because I know discussion can go on long about gender roles, but there are even thornier questions, and does the study have implications for them? Such as: what about people born with two genders, thus hermaphrodites? Or people born with an essentially female brain in a male body, or vice versa? An LDS research psychologist I know studied the effects of stress on pregnant mice: the mice reacted to the stress by producing high amounts of estrogen, which in their male embryos feminized their brains. (Thus beyond the phenomenon noted in the study above, in which some males were more like a female in their brain, and some females more like males; these embryos were instead essentially female.) I asked the man about the implications of such work—the responsible scientific answer if of course that it’s only been demonstrated in mice so far, but it does offer an interesting line of research.

  37. Adam Greenwood
    January 5, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    #13 is awesome. Dragon-slayer!

    By the way, any fantasy book with a cover picture of dragon with big, soulful eyes is bad. Inflexible rule.

  38. mlu
    January 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    #21 I’m probably not completely following you, but it does seem important to the gospel that however flesh came to be, biology is not destiny.

    Living the gospel is a constant process of asking not “how do I feel?” but “how am I supposed to feel?” and of practicing both feelings and conduct that we learn from our culture of teachings and examples rather than how this or that scientist claims we are wired to act.

    One of the great lies of some variants of feminism was its teaching that men and women are enemies rather than the friends and helpers both genders should be working at becoming.

    I’ve always liked Rilke on that topic:

    Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. . . .

    And perhaps the sexes are more akin than people think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in one phenomenon: that man and woman, freed from all mistaken feelings and aversions, will seek each other not as opposites but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to bear in common, simply, earnestly, and patiently, the heavy sex that has been laid upon them.
    Letters to a Young Poet, #4

  39. Ron
    January 5, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    So an implication in all of this is that males and females are sent to tabernacles that are, respectively, type S or E–and that this is according to a divine design to further God’s children’s progress? (And a bell curve distribution would indicate other random–or perhaps a complex mix of–other influences being felt in this fallen, entropic world. I think that’s what a bell curve means, as exhibited when you shuffle a deck of cards.)

    The point about the natural man (the physical brain) seems important. Perhaps the purposes in all of this are opposite: the areas of struggle, where it doesn’t come as easy, are areas we are sent here to grow in–males need to develop E and females need to develop S. But that would seem to contradict the idea of eternal roles, as mentioned in the Proclamation.

    Would any of this relate to other dualities, like relation to things that are (as in 2 Ne) “acted upon,” vs. relation to things that “act?”

  40. Danny
    January 5, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Isnt this scientist Borat’s elder brother? I.E, Sasha baron-Cohen’s elder brother and Cambridge faculty member?

  41. Last Lemming
    January 5, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I have been hammered for saying this before, but I will try again. I strongly suspect that the word “gender” in the Proclamation on the Family is a euphemism for sex. The concept of gender that most of you are using simply didn’t exist when the brethren were growing up; its proper use was strictly as a term of grammar. It became a euphemism for sex at about the same time that it entered the sociological literature. That sociological concept is too imprecise (as manifested by the overlapping Bell curves) to have much meaning in the context of our eternal identities. Biological sex is much more precise (although not perfectly so, as pointed out by CraigH above, while nicely illustrating how the concepts of gender and sex are so easily conflated).

  42. MikeInWeHo
    January 5, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    re: 32
    “The book seems to lay out the science of gender distinction; the statement seems to take the next step and say, ‘So what now?’ ”

    “What now” indeed. This topic is worrisome to those at the edges of the gender bell-curve. Observations like Baron-Cohen’s are used to pathologize, condemn, and even persecute the tomboy, the effeminate man, and even the stay-at-home dad/employed mom.

  43. mlu
    January 5, 2008 at 10:29 pm


    I left out part of what Rilke had said that your comment made me want to re-read:

    . Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. If you just recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own talent and nature, out of your own experience and childhood and strength, to achieve a wholly individual relation to sex (one that is not influenced by convention and custom), then you will no longer have to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your dearest possession.

    I don’t quite agree with him, since I think “convention and custom” probably includes aspects of the gospel that we should be influenced by, but I do think it’s important that we realize that bell curves are merely interesting and that all our stereotypes are not divinely ordained ideals and that pathologizing, condemning and persecuting people working through their individual natures and individual lives is likely to be a much more serious problem than being something of an outlier.

  44. Ray
    January 5, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    #42 – Mike, I can understand that. I hope we are moving past that – at the very least in the recent repudiation of the condemnation that used to be part of our official view and still is part of the official view of too many religions and denominations.

  45. January 6, 2008 at 12:39 am

    Mark IV (#24), the chapter on the evolution of male and female brains goes back to the selection pressures on human populations during the extended hunter-gatherer phase, when men in groups were doing the hunting and women did childrearing and gathering close to the settlement. It tries to relate the model presented in the book (based on the research results of the author and various other researchers) to an evolutionary setting that would explain how the observed characteristics would be adaptive.

    BiV (#28), yes the author did talk about the “extreme female brain” scenario, a person with extreme empathy and no systematizing capability. There is no clear dysfunctional condition that correlates to this state. That makes me think of the ray gun in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which had deleterious effects on men but no effect on women, but I suppose that sort of analogy is closer to the other Baron-Cohen.

  46. January 6, 2008 at 12:46 am

    MikeInWeHo (#42), I’m not sure how you make that leap. The author certainly isn’t interested in stigmatizing anyone. In fact, his clinical interest is in treating autism, not stigmatizing it, and bringing that or similar conditions within a normal spectrum (albeit at the tail of the distribution) seems to normalize rather than segregate it. There will always be people who misuse or misapply research but that’s not really a basis for criticizing the researcher or the results.

  47. January 6, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Just a quick note: anyone who is interested in finding out where they lie on the EQSQ spectrum (based upon tests from Simon Baron Cohen\’s book, altered to Americanise them) can do so here:

  48. Jack
    January 6, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Julie: “It is possible to accept the premise of biologically-based brain diversity without reaching the kinds of conclusions that Jack does–conclusions which undermine the agency and accountability of women.”

    My conclusions, as you see them, undermine the agency and accountability of men as well.

  49. MikeInWeHo
    January 6, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    re: 42 I’m not suggesting that this book makes that leap. In fact, one suspects that Baron-Cohen would be appalled if his work were used that way. My point was that it’s a small step from “gender is an essential characteristic” to “these are the proper roles for each gender,” a step that many seem all too willing to take….with devastating consequences for the gender non-conformist in many societies.

  50. Kristine
    January 6, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Mike’s not wrong to see danger for “gender non-conformists” here, if not in Baron-Cohen’s work, than certainly in the Proclamation, which was quite deliberately written as an opening salvo in the Church’s fight against gay marriage.

  51. Bob
    January 6, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Dave, I have not read the material, (that always just slows me down). But what about Male/Female differences in animals? The above posts seem to believe Gender differences starts with humans and maybe gods(?), and is there for post-life purpose(s).

    Also, to me, the ‘confusion’ comes in with the attempt to read Religion or Mormonism is into a Science study?

  52. January 6, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    #49 And the gender non-conformity itself doesn’t even have to follow what you might call ‘establishment’ gender non-conformity. One of my best friends is a mid-op trans-gendered person (male to female) who possesses both an extraodinarily ‘female’ sense of empathy and a somewhat intimidating male penchant for technical descriptions of precisely what the logical gaps are in the thinking behind the injustices that she can so humanely respond to on the empathic level.

    I can’t help but note that the dialogue that Baron-Cohen sets up is a-priori ‘systemising’ in its nature. Not a criticism of clearly useful work, just an observation.

  53. January 6, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Bob, there’s no easy way to bring animals and sexual dimorphism into the discussion and it wasn’t really touched on in the book. I don’t think I’m trying to read Mormonism into the science as much as considering what light (if any) the science throws on Mormon doctrine or belief in this area. This is a Mormon group blog, not a psychology group blog, after all — one can’t just post about science without some connection or application to Mormonism.

  54. Julie M. Smith
    January 6, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Re#47: my EQ was 7 and my SQ was 55, making me an extreme systemitizer, along with 0% of the female population. This may explain a lot. . .

  55. Bob
    January 6, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    #53: To me, #19 is very close to my #51.

  56. January 6, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    This discussion has interested me because I work with several autistic individuals, both male and female, in the course of my employment. I don’t have any insights to add, though.

    I took the quiz mentioned in comment #47, and my EQ is 32 and my SQ is 54, making me a systemizer, along with 14% of the female population. (Although I think my systemizing score may be slightly artificially inflated by the fact that there were several law and political science related systemizing questions and I got my degree in political science and I am pursuing a law degree.)

  57. mmiles
    January 6, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    That quiz is ridiculous! It has more to do with interests than systems. I think I am pretty emotional and not too logical, but scores were EQ36 and SQ86!
    A person’s own answers are too biased to place stock in it.

  58. Melinda
    January 6, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    “BiV (#28), yes the author did talk about the “extreme female brain” scenario, a person with extreme empathy and no systematizing capability. There is no clear dysfunctional condition that correlates to this state. ”

    There is a character in the novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” who has extreme empathy. I think her name is May, but I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, if she heard any bad news about any person, it caused her emotional pain so severe she couldn’t function. Eventually, she took drastic action to escape from feeling the pain of someone she loved who was mistreated.

    Obviously, that’s just a fictional story. But I identified with May – I tend to personalize every bit of bad news I hear. My DH (and most of my female friends) on the other hand, can hear about bad news and think it’s too bad, but it doesn’t send him into the tailspin that I can get into by empathizing too much with someone else. It’s an odd symptom I’ve dealt with for years. When I went on anti-depressants, my overdrive empathy disappeared and I could even watch the crime section on the evening news. Now I’m back off anti-depressants, and I’ve got to have the news filtered again. Political news is okay – crime news is not. My overdrive empathy even extends to fictional bad news, which limits the books I read (no suspense novels or descriptions of crimes), and reduces the number of movies and tv shows I watch down to just a few.

    Extreme empathy doesn’t make me charitable in a useful way, though. I avoid terrible situations because I can’t separate myself enough from them to be useful. I avoid even hearing about some things (anyone else notice how many posts on FMH are about atrocities against women and children? I don’t read those. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I care too much and can’t handle it.) Some degree of detachment is necessary to help someone. I’m so empathetic that I’m an emotional coward. I’m afraid to feel their pain, and that’s not Christlike.

    I never thought of it as being a ‘extreme female’ trait before. I wonder if it is. On the other hand, I’m good at organizing and systematizing things like conferences, activities and information.

  59. Ray
    January 6, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    44EQ and 57SQ for me – dead center between the average male and average female respondents. At least for me, this was consistent with every other similar test I’ve taken.

  60. Sterling
    January 7, 2008 at 1:18 am

    I took the test also. I don’t get the scores.

    EQ Scores
    Average Male: 39.0
    Average Female: 48.0
    My score: 45

    SQ Scores
    Average Male: 61.2
    Average Female: 51.7
    My score: 53

    It looks like I am closer to the female scores, even though I am male, and yet the program tells me my type is Systemizing rather than Empathizing. I guessed that my type was E rather than S, but the program tells me otherwise. Am I missing something?

  61. mmiles
    January 7, 2008 at 2:51 am

    I really think the test is bogus. If I take the equally silly color coded personality test, I’m mostly blue. By this I should be red. Plus, I’m female, and 86! Wow–that’s out of the spectrum.

  62. Ray
    January 7, 2008 at 2:55 am

    mmiles, you’re 86? You have to be the oldest blogger here.

  63. January 7, 2008 at 4:26 am

    $Re the sscores from hte test. It’s not the actual numbers that realy matter. For different people place different values on “not very”, “interested” and so on. It’s the difference between the two numbers that counts.The ratio between them.

  64. Kirk Reid
    January 7, 2008 at 5:25 am

    I took the quiz and did as directed, answering without thinking about it too much.

    But I found some questions hard to answer, where I could have agreed or disagreed depending on how you spun the question. Like in the EQ test when it asks, “I often find it difficult to judge if something is rude or polite”. I thought I can easily judge that, and would try to avoid what I judged to be rudeness, but internally I’m bewildered as to why it matters so much because other people’s rudeness interests me more than it offends me.

    In the SQ test it asks “Do you avoid situations you can’t control” and wasn’t sure how to answer that either because on the one hand I hate situations over which I don’t have control but I deliberately do not avoid them because I always feel it’s good for my character development – and that it’s just plain good humanity – to be in those situations and not need to have control.

    Scored exactly 44 in both EQ and SQ in the end. Not sure what that means.

  65. Kirk Reid
    January 7, 2008 at 6:40 am

    #56 Keri, my daughter has (high-functioning) autism and she and I are so completely alike people have suggested I may be somewhere on the spectrum myself. I think she’s so great, so creative and makes such utter sense all the time that I don’t really get what the diagnosis actually means, though I appreciate that there are difficulties in relating and that the official diagnoses gives us access to help for her. But inside I tend to resist those labels. I always think of them as just ‘words’ and I wind up being more interested in the psychology behind the ‘discourse’ on autism, in why there’s a ‘need’ for such realities to be pathologised and packaged than in the – to me – highly suspect definition itself.

    I totally agree with your point about the systemizing quotient being open to artificial inflation (or deflation) because the questions refer to specific subject areas. I felt my systemizing score would rise or fall according to my interest in the specific subject matter referred to and therefore not correctly rate a general systemizing impulse accurately. The questions only cover so many subject areas. I would be highly and obsessively systemising with musical or language information and quite indifferent to a legislative process. At the moment I’m completely absorbed with the sytem of the FL studio music software and need to know every single spec on the compressors, need to try every single oscillator on the synths and note their effects….and yet I would buy a car and not think to ask about it’s engine capacity.

  66. Blake
    January 7, 2008 at 11:19 am

    PC aside (just for a moment) is it possible that God gives us callings that give us opportunities to learn from what naturally challenges us? For instance, the lack of personal empathy that seems to be (generally and on a bell curve) naturally male may be addressed by giving males the priesthood to learn to care for others. Wonder of wonders males turn it into an organizational chart. Could it be that females are given relief society to learn to organize their charitable empathy and wonder of wonders they turn it into a competition for the most perfect woman? I am open to the possibility that we receive the callings that we do so that we can learn what from what challenges us most. I gust that means that GAs have the most learn?

    If we accept eternal personality in some sense (in the broadest sense of personality as some continuing identity in behavioral terms), then the notion that there are male and female intelligences makes some sense — but the broad spectrum of differences both within and outside of genders makes such comparisons difficult and tortured in my view. Is it our doctrine that eternal intelligences have male and female anatomy? I doubt it.

  67. Bob
    January 7, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    #66: “….eternal intelligences have male and female anatomy? I doubt it.”. Then are you saying only the Father and the Son are male, or they are not? That there is no Mother in Heaven?

  68. Anon
    January 7, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    When one looks at evolution a lot of the causes for the distinctions between men and women become clear. Women, because they bear the children, are limited in the number of offspring they can have and therefore must invest in each child. This requires more love, patience, and ties to a community. Men on the other hand have in the past had an evolutionary advantage in having numerous offspring with many partners and consequently they are more inclined towards instincts of competitiveness, violence, jealousy in order to provide themselves more opportunities for procreation. However, the alpha male model found in many mammals is less common in humans since humans having developed the ability to make each other more of a resource than competition for resources. This has led to a more monogamous society in which a greater number of people survive, thus causing the need for men to slowly adjust their instincts to be more similar to that of females.

  69. Ray
    January 7, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    #66 – “Is it our doctrine that eternal intelligences have male and female anatomy?”

    I believe that is a rhetorical question, but . . .

    We have no doctrine on this question, assuming “eternal intelligences” means pre-existent intelligences not resurrected beings. Bob, I think you missed that distinction with your questions.

  70. Kevinf
    January 7, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    I scored 44 on the EQ, and 91 on the SQ. That being said, I can’t believe the messy piles of stuff around the house. But a lot of it is computer and network equipment, books, and maps.

    Part of the SQ is probably the one tendency I have towards OCB, which primarily manifests itself in putting groceries in the grocery cart, packing the car for vacation, or loading a moving van. As no one else can obviously do these as well as I can, I find I often have to avoid helping load the truck if someone is moving, because they just don’t get it right! :)

  71. Bob
    January 7, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    #69: I believe terms such as: Father, Son, Brother, Sister, Family are Mormon doctrines. I believe that these terms are descriptive of what most Mormons believe happens in the next world.
    #68: Again, male/female is not limited to humans in Nature. In a competitive group, most males go without have kids, only the strong. That the nature of evolution.

  72. ECS
    January 7, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Interesting. I’m a strong SQ, but only because of professional training. Three years of law school and then practicing law at a high pressure firm forced my strict attention to detail and systems organization (especially governmental agencies and legislation). Before law school, however, I wouldn’t have paid any attention to legal documents, maps, etc.

    Interesting post, Dave!

  73. Ray
    January 7, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    #71 – Bob, I agree. My point is that when we talk of “intelligences” we almost always are talking about a PRE- (spiritual) pre-existence state (what we were prior to our creation as spirit children of the Father) – and we have no doctrine on that state.

  74. Bob
    January 7, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    #73: And I agree with you..for me “intelligences”= pre-existence state. #66 (Blake), added “eternal personality”, “eternal intelligences”, and “anatomy”, to the pot. I was just looking for some clarity.
    I just fear this is the same box canyon we rode into on race. That being, that our ideas on Gender are supported by Science, Scripture, and ‘Church doctrine”, when they are not.

  75. Ray
    January 7, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

  76. Kirk Reid
    January 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Could I ask for a clarification because I’m not sure I get it? There’s a Church Doctrine that in the hereafter and eternally, we are gender-specific spirits with gender-specific bodies, but there’s not a position either way on gender-specificity for pre-existent intelligences? I mean quite apart from the anatomical issue Blake mentions, there’s not a position on pre-existent intelligences at all with respect to gender or gendered personalities, or in fact the nature of pre-existent personalities at all? That’s the clarified version yes?

  77. Ray
    January 7, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    That’s it, Kirk. I certainly won’t speculate on it, since speculation has led to a lot of stuff we have had to repudiate over the years.

  78. Kirk Reid
    January 7, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Nope I’ve got no theories on it either. Thanks for the clarification.

  79. Bob
    January 8, 2008 at 1:11 am

    Maybe Caution is an even a better word than Clarification. It’s not that ” there’s not a position “, it’s there are many positions, but no agreement.

  80. January 8, 2008 at 1:51 am

    I’d like to thank all the commenters, both systematizers and empathizers, for their remarks.

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