The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain

The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain

Paperback

By (author) Simon Baron-Cohen

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  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 288 pages
  • Dimensions: 129mm x 198mm x 17mm | 214g
  • Publication date: 1 October 2007
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0141011017
  • ISBN 13: 9780141011011
  • Sales rank: 154,598

Product description

"The Essential Difference" shows that, on average, male and female minds are of a slightly different character. Men tend to be better at analysing systems (better systemisers), while women tend to be better at reading the emotions of other people (better empathisers).

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Author information

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor at Cambridge University in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, and the co-director of the Autism Research Centre there. He has carried out research into both autism and sex differences, over a twenty-year career. He is the author of MINDBLINDNESS.

Editorial reviews

Hans Asperger put forward the extreme male brain theory of autism in 1944, but the translation of his German text failed to reach the UK until 1991. Only in the last few years has it been possible to test his hypothesis. Simon Baron-Cohen, the psychologist who runs the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, looks at the evidence. Data gathered over past decades has already persuaded researchers that there are essential differences between typical male and female brain functioning, but this is a scientific study that goes well beyond the light-hearted 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' approach. The author suggests that people can be categorised as belonging to one of three brain types: type E, the predominantly empathizing brain, type S, the predominantly systematizing brain and type B, the balanced brain, classified as neither male nor female. Hans Asperger's theory was that people with high-functioning autism had a variant of brain type S - in effect an extreme male brain. 'Empathizing' behaviour is demonstrated amongst many other things, by a concern for other people and good language and communication skills. More women than men have this type of brain. 'Systematizing' behaviour is shown by a predominant interest in regularity, systems and technology. More men than women have brain type S. Looking at how these differences occur, there are indications that hormone levels can affect empathizing. Lower levels of foetal testosterone lead to better language ability, eye contact, social skills and reduced aggression. Similarly, the more testosterone you have the more your brain is tied into systematizing and less into emotional relationships. Language superiority in women may thus be linked to their stronger empathizing ability, and good spatial skills in men to their stronger systematizing ability. The author backs up his model with an extensive look at the kinds of male/female differences that are apparent at an early age, stressing however that not all men have the male brain and not all women have the female brain. The central claim of the book is only that more males than females have brain S and more females than males have brain E. The autistic spectrum, strongly genetic in origin, affects more males than females. Those with Asperger's Syndrome have many of the signs of autism but with normal or superior intelligence. It is these people Baron-Cohen classifies as having the extreme male brain with its overwhelming need to predict and control the world around it. He describes the case of a mathematics professor who has gained the highest accolades for his work but remains puzzled by his general alienation from people. Those with AS try to manage social intercourse by looking for logical rules and are bewildered by the concept of 'feelings'. Evidence for an extreme female brain doesn't appear to be forthcoming. Females handicapped by poor systematizing such as difficulty in understanding maths, physics and map-reading don't find themselves socially maladapted and there seem to be no psychological disorders that can be ascribed to hyper-empathy. The model leaves many such questions unanswered but Baron-Cohen's work is an important and much needed step on the way to understanding Asperger's Syndrome and the broader workings of the human brain. (Kirkus UK)