Recent research suggests that gender affects how we see the world and how we operate within it.A
According to the results of new research into vision carried out at the City University of New York (CUNY), there are marked differences in the way that men's and women's brains process visual data. Israel Abramov of CUNY stated that the experiments relate to specific sets of thalamic neurons in the brain's primary visual cortex, which appear to be gender related. The development of these neurons is influenced by the male sex hormones during foetal growth early in pregnancy. Although Abramov can successfully explain the process that leads to the difference, he is at a loss to know what evolutionary motive there might be for the variance.B
These results should not surprise us, as there are also differences in the senses of hearing and the olfactory system. Previous studies have revealed that in women, these senses are more sensitive to various stimuli in the environment than in men. Women can hear higher-pitched sounds and, when listening, they show activity in the temporal lobe across their show activity in the temporal lobe across their whole brain, whereas men generally show activity exclusively in the left hemisphere of the brain. Likewise, research indicates that odours activate a larger region of the brain in females, and they are more sensitive to and are able to differentiate and categorise subtle distinctions in aromas better than males, although the structure of the nose is the same and they have the same number of receptors.C
At CUNY when subjects with 20/20 sight and normal colour vision were asked by researchers to describe different colours, it was discovered that the males needed a slightly longer wavelength of a colour to detect the same shade as females, and that men were not as good at discriminating between shades. Also, in measuring sensitivity to contrast, the volunteers were shown images of light and dark bars of varying widths that alternated in colour so that they seemed to flicker. The men were better at recognising images that changed faster and were composed of thinner bars.D
Earlier studies carried out at the University of Southern California revealed that males and females focus differently as well. The researchers discovered that when focussing on a speaker, a man will fixate on the lips of the person, but he is liable to divert his focus to any action taking place behind the person, for instance a passing pedestrian or vehicle. Women, however, seem to alternate between looking at the other person's eyes and body, and they are apt to be distracted by other people. Why the difference? Former studies showed that women are better able to interpret nonverbal communication; it stands to reason that, by taking in more of the body with their eyes, they can garner more information about the speaker. It could be said that women pay more attention to the social nature of the setting whereas men are more drawn to shifts in motion and speed. The fact that men do not discern,or have trouble decoding, nonverbal cues leads to each sex constantly misconstruing the other's signals. A man may read a friendly smile as a piece of coquetry, for example, whereas a woman might wrongly identify a furrowed brow as a sign of anger rather than as an expression of concentration.E
It has been known for some time that men's and women's brains are wired differently. Back in the 1980s, however, it was thought that boys and girls were born with the same brains but the environment they grew up in would determine any differences. It is true that boys and girls are still socialised differently, but psychologist Diane Halpern believes that many of the cognitive differences are biologically innate. For instance, even looking at different age groups and cultures, it has been proved that men have better visual-spatial skills - such as rotating an object in their minds, judging angle orientation, and navigating by points of the compass.F
On the other hand, it is also acknowledged that women are more fluent verbally, and they are better at remembering objects and therefore navigate by landmarks. Halpern is at pains to point out that having different skills is not the same as having different levels of intelligence. She will not be drawn into a debate over whether one gender is smarter than or superior to the other. In fact, there are a fair few myths out there with regard to gender differences. You might have heard it said that boys are better at mathematics, but Halpern explains that any difference is context dependent. In more gender- equal societies,'the male advantage in math disappears', she says. Social context, economics and other environmental influences all have a bearing.G
If the playing field is level and neither gender is more gifted, how do we account for the fact that more than ninety per cent of CEOs are men and more than ninety per cent of secretaries are women? Halpern explains that women do most of the nurturing i阳society, such as looking after children and taking care of the elderly; therefore, they tend to opt for paid jobs that require less investment of time. As she sees it, this results in both a loss of talented women in the workplace and a loss of capable men on the domestic scene, as fathering is very important and many men would make great caregivers. Halpern puts it in plain words:'We can't have equality in work,if we don't have equality in the home.'