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Men and women are from the same planet after all
A study has found that the differences between men and women have been vastly overestimated

The Sunday Times - Britain
 September 18, 2005

Men and women are from the same planet after all
Jonathan Leake and Sarah Keenlyside
IN the battle of the sexes it may be time for a truce. A study has found that the differences between men and women have been vastly overestimated.
The study was prompted by the perception that men and women think differently about the world and their place in it — as characterised in bestselling books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Such books suggest women are naturally better at empathising with others, communicating and caring. Men are said to be better with numerical and spatial tasks and to be more natural leaders.

The new study found, however, that such differences were overstated. It looked at 120 traits including personality, communication skills, thinking power and leadership potential and found that while there were some differences, they were mostly so small as to be statistically irrelevant.

The American study found significant differences in only 22% of traits. These included sexual behaviour, where men were less willing to show commitment, and in aggression — men were more prone to anger. Men were also, the psychologists found, better at skills involving co-ordination such as throwing.

Janet Shibley Hyde, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, who led the study, said: “Popular media have portrayed men and women as psychologically different as two planets — Mars and Venus — but these differences are vastly overestimated. The two sexes are more similar in personality, communication cognitive ability and leadership than realised.”

Hyde’s research, published today in the American Psychologist, collected the results of 46 so-called meta-analyses in which traits had been closely examined for sex differences. These studies themselves combine the results of many research projects. Such an approach has the advantage of bringing together huge amounts of data and can give a much better overall result, especially in areas such as psychology where traits are subtle and hard to measure.

Hyde said gender stereotyping permeated western culture and was damaging for society and individuals.

“According to these stereotypes boys, for example, are better at maths than girls,” she said. “Research shows that because of this, mathematically talented girls may be overlooked by teachers and parents.”

Hyde analysed the studies by recalculating the data from them so they were comparable. In 30% of the traits analysed, she found almost no difference that was statistically significant between men and women, while there were only small differences in another 48%. “This means 78% of potential gender differences are small or close to zero,” she said.

David Schmitt, professor of psychology at Bradley University, Illinois, who specialises in gender differences, said there were real psychological differences between the sexes but these were often exaggerated.

“Overinflated stereotypes are limiting, but there are still deep biological differences,” said Schmitt. “Gender differences in childhood, such as boys playing with boys’ toys, demonstrate that gender differences do genuinely exist.”
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