Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sex Differences: Ability or Motivation?

There's a belief which is held by a lot of people:

Men can have a maternal paternal parental instinct that is as strong as the one found among women, and women can be as good at running companies and countries as men.

I agree in part of that quote. I agree that men can be good parents as women do, and I agree than women can be good executives and men do.

In fact, there's a study that have shown that women are NOT more skilled at men at reading emotions. Women are just more MOTIVATED to read others emotions than men.

When my colleagues and I began doing research on empathic accuracy (everyday mind reading) about 20 years ago, we expected to find that women would be more accurate than men at inferring the specific content of other people's thoughts and feelings. This expectation was based on the cultural stereotype of "women's intuition."

Surprisingly, however, when we tested for evidence of this expected gender difference, we kept failing to find any support for it. In seven straight studies, the average empathic accuracy score of our female participants was not significantly different from the average score of our male participants.

So men can be good parents just as women. It's just that men don't have much of a preference to care about children as women do. Given a choice, men would prefer more masculine activities such as running a company rather than parenting. But if he has no choice except parenting, then men would do just as well as women do, as mentioned above.

I think the same thing happens with the male dominance in business. There are not much women who run companies. That's not because women aren't capable of doing it. It's because women aren't too motivated to run companies. Women have an maternal instinct to care for their children, so they choose to take care of their children more. But if women are forced to run a large company, they will do just as well. Women just aren't motivated to make money rather than raising children, compared to men. I believe that the differences are based on difference preferences rather than difference abilities.

Yes, some exceptions do exist. Men do have greater spatial manipulation abilities than women do. But that's just an exception, not the general rule. In general, sex differences are due to differences in preferences and motivations rather than differences in abilities.

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