Re: Gender differences

Gerold Firl (
26 May 1995 13:04:43 -0700

In article <3ptugj$> () writes:

>As far as I know (and, as an educational psychologist, this is not
>unfamiliar territory to me), differences have been established in the
>DISTRIBUTION of cognitive functions between males and females. The
>central tendency are different for some things; the range is not. Given
>that there is no part of the distribution that is exclusively male or
>female (as far as I know), it seems unlikely that there are fundamental
>neurological differences. On the other hand, I am not a geneticist,
>biologist, or neurologist, so maybe someone who is can explain how
>distributions with the same range can show fundamental neurological

You point out that the mean male/female cognitive differences are usually
less than one standard deviation, which seems about right. You then go on
to say that there can be, therefore, no "fundamental" differences between
them. How fundamental is fundamental?

According to my usage of the term, there are no fundamental differences
between the thought processes of males and females. But that is not to say
that there are no *significant* differences. Differences on the order of
one sigma can be very significant. Consider situations where timing is
important; a split-second can make the difference between success and
failure. In such situations, a very small differential can be very

Looking at this question from a sociobiological perspective, it is clear
that innate gender differences should be expected to exist. Their absense
would be anomolous. Consider:

Social species which are relatively acultural (that is, whose social
behaviors are largely instinctive, like fish, reptiles, birds, and most
mammels) have genetically coded neurological structures which constrain
them to behave in rigidly stereotyped ways. Male fence lizards will compete
to occupy promenent display positions where they can flash their blue
throat and side patches, and female fence lizards are attracted to big
lizards with flashy patches. It's a simple society, accomplished without
any need for culture.

If humans lacked analogous social instincts, then we would have had to
*lose* them, somewhere along our evolutionary history. How could this
happen? The only conceivable way this could happen would be through a
culture-driven natural selection which promoted the development of people
who *lacked* such instincts; maybe they were more flexible, and as culture
evolved, changing form, only the people who were able to change with
culture survived. Take this as a hypothesis. Is it plausible?

Now go back to the position taken by strong advocates of man as a culture-
driven animal, lacking the social instincts of our ancestors. This position
is often strongly opposed to sociobiology, as applied to humans, and claims
that the only reason for the rigid differentiation of sex roles seen
throughout human cultures is the action of culture; i.e., there is no
instinctive basis, it's all learned.

What advocates of this position don't understand, and would understand if
they would bother to read-up on the literature, is that culture does not
act in opposition to instinct in this case, but *strengthens* it. When
culture imposes social roles on a bioological subpopulation, it actually
creates a corresponding genetic tendancy. Individuals who have difficulty
playing their social roles are at a disadvantage in relation to those who
can effortlessly mesh with their expected behavior. If social roles remain
consistant for long periods of time, then it would be expected that culture
and biology will reinforce each other. If the rules of society flip-flop
repeatedly, then it might be expected that cultural selection could
actually work to diminish the strength of social instincts. In something
like gender roles, the data seems to indicate that we have a consistant
pattern operating over long periods of time.

Does this mean that we need to accept rigid sex-role stereotyping? That we
are biologically constrained to live within an envelope determined by the
circumstances of birth? No. It does not. As has so often been noted, there
is enormous overlap between the abilities and desires of male and female.
The rigid differentiation commonly observed in human cultures throughout
history and around the world is an indication of the lack of flexibility
of those cultures, not of the magnitude of gender differences. If we, as
individuals, can be flexible enough to accept individual divergance from
social norms, then our culture can be flexible enough too. On the other
hand, if we insist that everyone hew to the party line, and exhibit
rightthink and rightspeak at all times, then we can not expect our culture
to be tolerant of individual deviation either. Think about that before
demanding ideological conformity, as is so-often the case where this issue
is debated.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf