Think men are from Mars and women are from Venus? According to a new report published in American Psychologist, the sexes might not be worlds apart like many assume.
Researchers found an 80 percent overlap in 75 psychological characteristics like morality, job-related stress, cooperation, emotional expression, cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, leadership, self-esteem, impulsivity, language use, and interests.
Lead study author Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, and his colleagues performed a new method of data analysis called meta-synthesis to look at large-scale research on various populations of men and women. They performed meta-synthesis on 106 meta-analyses of gender differences conducted by scientists, assessing more than 12 million people in total.
The study took a number of factors into account and still found the cross-sex similarities. “This was true regardless of whether we looked at cognitive domains, such as intelligence; social personality domains, such as personality traits; or at well-being, such as satisfaction with life,” Krizan says in a press release.
If men and women are so similar, why do we often seem worlds apart?
We see this effect because differences stand out, according to Krizan. We notice extremes. For instance, if the majority of inmates in prison are men, we assume aggression is a trait associated with the male sex.
Likewise, we tend to notice multiple differences at once. If men appear more aggressive, act more masculine, and seem to value physical beauty more when choosing a partner, versus women who are more interested in people as opposed to things, are more reactive to physical pain and are better able to develop relationships with their peers (all true), we appear vastly different.
“The difference on any one trait is pretty small,” Krizan explains. “When there are several smaller differences, people might think there’s a big difference because the whole configuration has a different flavor.”
He says he thinks most people make the mistake of assuming any one trait in a woman is so different than the same trait in a man. (Yes, guys have emotions, too. And yes, women can exhibit leadership skills.)
The researchers did identify 10 characteristics with noticeable gender differences: exhibiting masculine characteristics versus feminine traits, mental rotation, stimulation to physical pain, importance of beauty in mate selection, peer attachment, interest in people versus things, aggression, film-prompted fear, confidence in physical abilities and performance within a group of same-sex individuals.
Among differences, in many respects, stereotypes did tend to hold. The researchers found guys are more aggressive, while girls are more social; women have a lower pain tolerance, while men are more into the looks of their romantic partners.
So, in at least a few ways, you can say, “boys will be boys” — or, “girls will be girls.”
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