Why do most men use the phone to exchange information rather than have a chat? Why do so many women love talking about their feelings and relationships? We may suspect profound differences between the sexes but do they stand up to scientific scrutiny? Simon Baron-Cohen argues that men’s and women’s brains are made differently: the female brain is hard-wired for empathy, and the male to understand and build systems. Take brother and sister Alex and Hannah.Alex’s mother remembers that, as a toddler, he loved toy tractors and fire engines and would happily sit for hours prodding and pressing objects just to see what would happen. By age five he was obsessed with compiling football stickers. Music came later — naturally he drew up his own pop charts and stored his tapes in strict order — and in his teens he quickly mastered computers. His mother recalls that the interests just “seemed to come from deep within him’’. Alex, Baron-Cohen says, has a typical systemising, male or “S’’ type brain.
Hannah’s big passion was people. Even in her early years she loved making them laugh and smile. Hannah learned to talk earlier than her brother and plastered her walls with pictures of kittens and foals. As a teenager she also loved pop music, but rather than carefully cataloguing it, she would dance and sing in front of the mirror with her friends. “She’s really good at asking people sensitive questions so that she can explore how they’re feeling,’’ her mother says. Baron-Cohen says Hannah has an empathic, female or “E’’ type brain.
This is no light-hearted pop at sexual incompatibility. Baron-Cohen is a respected psychologist and, as he soberly points out, both men and women evolved on Earth, not Mars or Venus.