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The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain Hardcover – July 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738208442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738208442
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Should the title fail to express Baron-Cohen's certainty about gender differences, the Cambridge Univ. professor of psychology and psychiatry lays out his controversial thesis on page one: "The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems." Defending this bold view is a tough but engaging battle, one that's alleviated by Baron-Cohen's disclaimer that his conclusions refer to statistical majorities rather than "all men" and "all women," but exacerbated by his habit of simultaneously skirting and employing gender stereotypes. His copious evidence ranges from the anecdotal to the anthropological, and from the neurological to the case study (the author and his research team conducted many of these studies). Not all his support fully convinces: e.g., the music-classifying habits of novelist Nick Hornby's High Fidelity protagonist isn't confirmation of the male brain's predisposition to systems-building. After acknowledging cultural and social influences on gender differences, Baron-Cohen "surfs the brain" (and offers evidence from a number of studies, both human and animal) to establish a biological link. But if male rats navigate their way through mazes more easily than female rats, does that mean men are better at directions than women? His speculations on how binary brain types have evolved over the eons, which have the male brain co-opting traits like power and leadership, leaving the female brain with gossip and motherhood, may ruffle a few feathers. Perhaps the most refreshing section of this cerebral volume is devoted to what he calls "extreme" examples of the male brain-autism and its cousin, Asperger's syndrome. The author of previous autism books, including Mindblindness, Baron-Cohen offers curious lay readers a provocative discussion of male-female differences.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Baron-Cohen offers curious lay readers a provocative discussion of male-female differences." -- - Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Human males and females are overall equally intelligent.
Stephen A. Haines
Honestly, that speculation is just as valid as the majority of the flimsyevidence that Baron-Cohen offers in this book.
whiteelephant
In fact, nearly everyone does much better than he or she expected.
David H Miller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 150 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on October 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
After a lengthy and unwarranted disclaimer that his work isn't "sexist" [whatever that is], Baron-Cohen surveys the foundations of male and female minds. With a long clinical and teaching career, supported by an immense list of studies, he concludes that, in general, there are indeed "essential differences" in cognitive makeup between human genders. While there is a spectrum of characteristics, certain general frameworks exist attributable to men and women. For ease of analysis, he suggests that women are more empathic ["E" personalities] while men are more systematic ["S" personalities]. Each, he insists, has their role, with most people placed well within a median between extremes. The trends, however, are clear.
In a chatty style he likely uses speaking with patients, Baron-Cohen shows that women's empathic tendencies give them the power to quickly assess others' emotional states. Women more readily identify feelings in others, respond appropriately when sympathy is required and "reach out" in dealing with people. He stresses that this "intuitive sense" among women is almost universal and is rightfully well-regarded by all cultures. Men, on the other hand, operate under the need to understand "systems", organized conditions, mechanics, technology and are thus driven to know "how things work". This urge leads them away from the intimacy women have with others and, in the more extreme cases, are likely to become "loners". The most outstanding examples are those suffering from autism which is overwhelmingly a male condition.
Baron-Cohen has spent years studying autism, offering a range of examples.
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65 of 75 people found the following review helpful By David H Miller on January 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Before you start reading Baron-Cohen's fascinating book, go through the questionaire in the first appendix.
The questionaire, "Reading the Mind in the Eyes," has thirty-six photos cropped to show only the region around the eyes. By looking only at this small portion of the face, you have to figure out the emotion being expressed by the individual in the photo.
Chance would give only one out of four right answers. As Baron-Cohen remarks in the text, most people, when they take the quiz, find it extremely difficult -- one feels like one is guessing.
In fact, nearly everyone does much better than he or she expected. I got nearly two-thirds correct, and most people do even better.
This little quiz demonstrates one of the key points in the book: normal humans have an incredible ability to read the expressions, feelings, etc. of their fellow human beings from very subtle clues.
Baron-Cohen's thesis in his earlier book, "Mindblindness," was that autistic persons are simply people who lack this normal human "mind-reading" ability.
"The Essential Difference" expands this thesis to argue that, in this respect, autistic people are simply at a far end of a spectrum. Females (with numerous individual exceptions) tend towards the opposite end of the spectrum from autistic people: females are usually good empathizers, skilled at "mind-reading." Males tend to be less good at empathizing compared to females and better at "systemizing." Autistic people (who are predominantly male) lie at the extreme male end of the spectrum -- extraordinarily poor empathizers, good systemizers.
The author proves this case beyond reasonable doubt by both covering the scientific evidence and wittily discussing case studies.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By whiteelephant on June 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
I know of Simon Baron-Cohen from his work on autism. I have little doubt that his underlying view of the disorder is correct. People on the autistic spectrum tend to have deficient empathy, or theory of mind, while retaining, or even improving upon, more abstract 'systemizing' abilities. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Baron-Cohen decided to extend this view to gender, arguing that autism was but an extreme extension of the natural tendency of males to trade off empathy for 'systemizing'. This is a significant claim, and significant claims require significant evidence. Baron-Cohen hasn't presented that evidence in this book. With the exception of some intriguing studies on the effects of hormones on the brain, the majority of the evidence simply consists of reviewing behavioral differences between the sexes, and chalking up whatever is found to his nebulous hypothesis. For instance - females have some superior language abilities? Well that's a natural extension of empathy. Males tend to form dominance hierarchies? Well that must be a natural extension of systemizing. The terms 'empathize' and 'systemize' are left vague enough so that Baron-Cohen can conveniently sweep gender-differences arbitrarily into one or the other.

When Baron-Cohen attempts to define 'systemizing', he defines it in terms of predictive ability - i.e. the ability to predict an output Y from an input X. The problem with this framework is that it encompasses all human behavior. Humans make decisions by predicting the consequences of their actions, that is, by forming internal models of the environment. Much of what Baron-Cohen calls empathy can be seen as nothing more than internal models of social interactions and others - e.g. theory of mind.
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