Men are from ... Earth, women are from ... Earth, study says

On physical characteristics, like strength (top graph), men and women fall into distinct groups with very little overlap. But for most psychological attributes, including masculine attitudes (lower graph), variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is extensive. The physical strength graph shows statistical analysis of the scores for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s long jump, high jump, and javelin throw competitions. The masculinity-assertiveness graph is based on self-reported measures of competitiveness, decisiveness, sense of superiority, persistence, confidence, and the ability to stand up under pressure. Credit: University of Rochester

For decades, popular writers have entertained readers with the premise that men and women are so psychologically dissimilar they could hail from entirely different planets. But a new study shows that it's time for the Mars/Venus theories about the sexes to come back to Earth.

From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their is probably only a small part of the problem.

"People think about the sexes as distinct categories," says Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a co-author on the study to be published in the February issue of the . "'Boy or girl?' is the first question parents are asked about their newborn, and sex persists through life as the most pervasive characteristic used to distinguish categories among humans."

But the handy dichotomy often falls apart under statistical scrutiny, says lead author Bobbi Carothers, who completed the study as part of her doctoral dissertation at Rochester and is now a senior data analyst for the Center for Public Health System Science at Washington University in St. Louis. For example, it is not at all unusual for men to be empathic and women to be good at math – characteristics that some research has associated with the other sex, says Carothers. "Sex is not nearly as confining a category as stereotypes and even some academic studies would have us believe," she adds.

The authors reached that conclusion by reanalyzing data from 13 studies that had shown significant, and often large, . Reis and Carothers also collected their own data on a range of psychological indicators. They revisited surveys on relationship interdependence, intimacy, and sexuality. They reopened studies of the "big five" personality traits: extroversion, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness. They even crunched the numbers on such highly charged and seemingly defining gender characteristics as femininity and masculinity. Using three separate statistical procedures, the authors searched for evidence of attributes that could reliably categorize a person as male or female.

The pickings, it turned out, were slim. Statistically, men and women definitely fall into distinct groups, or taxons, based on anthropometric measurements such as height, shoulder breadth, arm circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. And gender can be a reliable predictor for interest in very stereotypic activities, such as scrapbooking and cosmetics (women) and boxing and watching pornography (men).

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Although it's easy to lump the sexes into different categories, the handy dichotomy doesn't hold up under statistical scrutiny, finds a new study. "The common belief that 'men are from Mars and women are from Venus' is really wrong... really, we’re all from the planet Earth," says coauthor Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. The differences between men and women are "individual differences, they’re not categorical differences." Credit: Matt Mann/University of Rochester

But for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet. Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum—the way they do with, say, height or physical strength—psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders. With very few exceptions, variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is so extensive that the authors conclude it would be inaccurate to use personality types, attitudes, and psychological indicators as a vehicle for sorting men and women.

"Thus, contrary to the assertions of pop psychology titles like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, it is untrue that men and women think about their relationships in qualitatively different ways," the authors write. "Even leading researchers in gender and stereotyping can fall into the same trap."

That men and women approach their social world similarly does not imply that there are no differences in average scores between the sexes. Average differences do exist, write the authors. "The traditional and easiest way to think of gender differences is in terms of a mean difference," Carothers and Reis write. But such differences "are not consistent or big enough to accurately diagnose group membership" and should not be misconstrued as evidence for consistent and inflexible gender categories, they conclude.

"Those who score in a stereotypic way on one measure do not necessarily do so on another," the authors note. A man who ranks high on aggression, may also rank low on math, for example. Caution the authors: "the possession of traits associated with gender is not as simple as 'this or that'."

Although emphasizing inherent differences between the sexes certainly strikes a chord with many couples, such simplistic frameworks can be harmful in the context of relationships, says Reis, a leader in the field of relationship science. "When something goes wrong between partners, people often blame the other partner's gender immediately. Having gender stereotypes hinders people from looking at their partner as an individual. They may also discourage people from pursuing certain kinds of goals. When psychological and intellectual tendencies are seen as defining characteristics, they are more likely to be assumed to be innate and immutable. Why bother to try to change?"

The best evidence we have that the so-called Mars/Venus gender division is not the true source of friction within relationships, says Reis, is that "gay and lesbian couples have much the same problems relating to each other that heterosexual couples do. Clearly, it's not so much sex, but human character that causes difficulties."

The findings support the "gender similarities hypothesis" put forth by University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde. Using different methods, Hyde has challenged "overinflated claims of gender differences" with meta-analyses of psychology studies, demonstrating that males and females are similar on most, though not all, psychological variables.

Those results were not a surprise for Carothers. Raised by two physical education teachers, the self-described tomboy grew up with "all kinds of sporting equipment… I did not question stereotypical attitudes, I just knew that they did not necessarily fit me and the folks I hung out with." That experience, she says, fueled a lifelong interest into the biological basis of behavior. When she discovered in graduate school that she could apply her prowess in statistics to exploring sex differences, the project became "a marriage of two interests."

The authors acknowledge that the study is based largely on questionnaires and may not fully capture real life actions. "Methods that more pointedly measure interpersonal behaviors (how many birthday cards have they sent this year, how many times a month do they call a friend just to see how he or she is, etc.) may more readily reveal a gender taxon," they write.

By the same token, however, as gender roles are liberalized, the authors speculate that new studies may show even less divergence between men and women in the United States. The opposite may be the case in cultures that are far more prescriptive of male and female roles, such as Saudi Arabia, Reis and Carothers predict.

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grondilu
3 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2013
What about reading articles on phys.org? AFAIC, I'm a man.
Mauricio
3.4 / 5 (10) Feb 04, 2013
every time I read "research" like this, promoting feminism, first thing to do is to find a picture of the "researcher". It never fails, always woman-looking males are "discovering the females and males are the same". I heard so many homosexual men singing the same song, trying to get laid with straight men. Here, we have an androgynous trying to promote his career in an environment dominated by females. Females which consider the highest compliment hearing that they are males. Freud must be laughing loud.
Kron
3.2 / 5 (11) Feb 04, 2013
Funny. This whole time I thought men and women had hormonal differences. One such difference I thought was present was the testosterone to estrogen ratio, that men had a higher testosterone to estrogen ratio than women. I thought higher testosterone levels were responsible for aggression. I thought higher estrogen levels were responsible for emotions. Therefore, I thought that real charecter differences existed between men and women.

I guess this new study has found that there are no hormonal differences present between men and women, OR, that hormones do not play a role in the way men and women think and act.

Or maybe this study is BS.
BikeToAustralia
2.4 / 5 (9) Feb 04, 2013
What are you guys (3 other male making comments) getting upset about? This article is an opinion based on statistics and personal experience. We were not part of the surveys and those experiences are their experiences, not your experiences. So what?

Of course, I am an individual. People sometimes ask me "whose side are you on?" (theirs or the bad guys), When I first heard that I was shocked speechless (a rare thing). Isn't it obvious? I am on my side.

I never thought I fit into a strangers preconceptions of who I should be. I do not feel threatened by this article. To me the message of this article is we are all individuals and are not so simple that we fit neatly into any one category or another.

I believe there are no simple answers to simple questions.
gwrede
2.1 / 5 (7) Feb 04, 2013
There are three problems with this article.

First

One should not do research to prove a point. That is not good science, and at least in my book, unethical. The biggest problem with such research is obviously that if it doesn't come out like you wish, then you just shred it. Ultimately all your published research ends up proving your point.

Second

Why is it always women who write this kind of stuff? Lead author [link="http://cphss.wust..._lg.jpg"]Bobbi[/link] paired up with Harry who is too old to remember what the s-word means.

Third

They are barking at the wrong tree. The Mars/Venus concept was originally to illustrate sex dependent differences in how we handle marital and premarital relations. Nothing more. And there is no researcher who can even try to prove that we behave the same there.

[link="http://news.ls.wi...yde.jpg"]Janet Hyde[/link] has tried, but the world is not impressed.
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 04, 2013
Complete bunk. This is the one time in my life I believe that the MOUNTAIN of anecdotal evidence obliterates any supposed conclusion in this study.

Perhaps the researchers are from Venus....
WeirdScience
5 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2013
The trouble with this study is that it shows a difference between men and women for masculinity-asertiveness, but there is no scale on the ordinate that can be used to determine whether or not the difference is significant. Does the spread of male and female test subjects overlap and by how much? Without that information, no conclusion about the similarity of the sexes for this one measure can be drawn from the results. The story gives no indication whether the conclusion is valid or not.
grondilu
5 / 5 (3) Feb 05, 2013
What are you guys (3 other male making comments) getting upset about?


Why do you count me in the upset people? I only asked a very simple question that could be simply answered if every commentator of this thread mentioned their gender.
sonya_trejo
1 / 5 (3) Feb 05, 2013
It's quite amusing that the men commenting are having such intense emotional reactions to statistical facts.
Modernmystic
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 05, 2013
It's quite amusing that the men commenting are having such intense emotional reactions to statistical facts.


What's even more amusing is that the women seem to need to interpret men as having emotional reactions rather than stating obvious facts....

Premise: Men and women have statistically average emotional and psychological make up.

Fact: Hormones significantly effect emotional and psychological responses.

Fact: Men and women have significantly different hormone levels.

Now is the premise true? Am I having a "intense emotional reaction"? ;)
Laughing Otter
1 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2013
You know Modernmystic, I don't know whether as a mystic you're familiar with this science thing at all, but speaking as a stereotypical rationalistic and sarcastic-type man, let me give you a few pointers. Generally in science, one gathers the findings and works backwards from that to establish what the "facts" are. One does pull "facts" out of thin air. How true your first "fact" is, is exactly what the study calls into question. The answer in any case is unlikely to be a simple yes or no.

I unsurprised, but unfortunately not all that amused at the number of men who feel the need to rubbish the findings, especially the absurd claims of a feminist/homosexual conspiracy. It makes a mockery of the claim that we're the "rational sex". We're all just as good or bad at the same things as we were yesterday, so you might as well keep an open mind as to how much of that is due to your sex, and how much of it is just you.
Laughing Otter
1 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2013
I beg your pardon, I meant to say that "One does *not* pull "facts" out of thin air".
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2013
I didn't pull these facts out of thin air. They're well established and settled science.

http://en.wikiped...hormones

http://en.wikiped...l_health

http://en.wikiped...sonality

Is it your position that men and women have equal levels of these hormones? Because if they don't they're going to have statistically different psychological responses.

One can have a study which claims the Earth is flat. I wouldn't be inclined to accept the study because I have an emotional stake in the Earth being flat, rather I'd call the study into question because of the mountain of evidence that it's round...
sirchick
5 / 5 (3) Feb 07, 2013
"The authors acknowledge that the study is based largely on questionnaires and may not fully capture real life actions."

Thank god physics has a more robust way to check things. Maybe psychology could do with some kind of sigma thing like physics use for probabilities.
itsyourpapa
not rated yet Feb 16, 2013
Men and women are both limited by the available forms of expression, emotion, etc. that we have developed as a species. But as evidence based practice demands, all research studies must be scrutinized, including this one. This study is not the end all be all on a subject that is vastly complex, and (in my opinion), merely offers a small piece of the puzzle at best. There is substantial evidence that there are differences between men and women, beyond physical characteristics, including science that shows how men and women's brains operate differently. The truth is that research can only accomplish so much and cannot comprehensively articulate the entire magnitude of the human experience, which includes not only human behavior and interaction, but perception, intuition, and various other sentient attributes. Also, someone should do a study on how women who have suffered trauma develop a natural propensity/compulsion toward androgyny.