Sex Differences in Mind

 

Twentieth Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2005

CONFLICT

Lecture 1   :   21 January

Simon Baron-Cohen

Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University

 

Abstract

Are there essential sex differences in the mind? And do such differences mean the two sexes are destined to live in different worlds? Finally, can one predict a person's mind from their sex? In this talk I introduce the framework that the 'female brain' has a stronger drive to empathize, whilst the 'male brain' has a stronger drive to systemize. Using terms like 'male brain' and 'female brain' is defensible because of the evidence from comparisons between groups of males and females. And the differences between the sexes appear early, suggesting biology as well as experience is shaping them. Research on the importance of fetal testosterone in particular is described. But when it comes to predicting an individual mind, one's sex turns out to be uninformative. There are women with the male brain, and men with the female brain, such that it is next to worthless to assume anything about a person based on their sex. Of interest, the neurodevelopmental condition of autism turns out to fit the profile of the extreme male brain, in showing significant difficulties in empathy alongside a heightened attraction to systems. The talk ends with a plea to respect individual differences.

Further reading: Baron-Cohen, S, (2003) The Essential Difference. Penguin.

Biography

 

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry. He is also a Fellow in Experimental Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge. In addition, he is Director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) in Cambridge. He holds degrees in Human Sciences from New College, Oxford, a PhD in Psychology from UCL, and an M.Phil in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, and has held teaching and research positions at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, before moving to Cambridge. He has conducted extensive research into autism spectrum conditions at the psychological, diagnostic, and neuro-scientific levels. Among other books he is author of Mindblindness (MIT Press, 1995)The Essential Difference (Penguin UK/Basic Books, 2003), and Prenatal Testosterone in Mind (MIT Press 2004). He has edited several academic volumes, including Understanding Other Minds (OUP, 1995 and 2001). He also authored a DVD-ROM entitled Mindreading: The interactive guide to emotions (Jessica Kingsley Ltd, www.jkp.com). He has published extensively in scientific journals in the fields of autism and cognitive neuroscience. For more information, see www.autismresearchcentre.com

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