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[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Evidence suggests that there are differences in the capacity for empathy between males and females. However, how deep do these differences go? Stereotypically, females are portrayed as more nurturing and empathetic, while males are portrayed as less emotional and more cognitive. Some authors suggest that observed gender differences might be largely due to cultural expectations about gender roles. However, empathy has both evolutionary and developmental precursors, and can be studied using implicit measures, aspects that can help elucidate the respective roles of culture and biology. This article reviews evidence from ethology, social psychology, economics, and neuroscience to show that there are fundamental differences in implicit measures of empathy, with parallels in development and evolution. Studies in nonhuman animals and younger human populations (infants/children) offer converging evidence that sex differences in empathy have phylogenetic and ontogenetic roots in biology and are not merely cultural byproducts driven by socialization. We review how these differences may have arisen in response to males' and females' different roles throughout evolution. Examinations of the neurobiological underpinnings of empathy reveal important quantitative gender differences in the basic networks involved in affective and cognitive forms of empathy, as well as a qualitative divergence between the sexes in how emotional information is integrated to support decision making processes. Finally, the study of gender differences in empathy can be improved by designing studies with greater statistical power and considering variables implicit in gender (e.g., sexual preference, prenatal hormone exposure). These improvements may also help uncover the nature of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders in which one sex is more vulnerable to compromised social competence associated with impaired empathy.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: During the intrauterine period a testosterone surge masculinizes the fetal brain, whereas the absence of such a surge results in a feminine brain. As sexual differentiation of the brain takes place at a much later stage in development than sexual differentiation of the genitals, these two processes can be influenced independently of each other. Sex differences in cognition, gender identity (an individual's perception of their own sexual identity), sexual orientation (heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality), and the risks of developing neuropsychiatric disorders are programmed into our brain during early development. There is no evidence that one's postnatal social environment plays a crucial role in gender identity or sexual orientation. We discuss the relationships between structural and functional sex differences of various brain areas and the way they change along with any changes in the supply of sex hormones on the one hand and sex differences in behavior in health and disease on the other.
Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 02/2011; 32(2):214-26. DOI:10.1016/j.yfrne.2011.02.007 · 7.58 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Girls and boys differ in their preferences for toys such as dolls and trucks. These sex differences are present in infants, are seen in non-human primates, and relate, in part, to prenatal androgen exposure. This evidence of inborn influences on sex-typed toy preferences has led to suggestions that object features, such as the color or the shape of toys, may be of intrinsically different interest to males and females. We used a preferential looking task to examine preferences for different toys, colors, and shapes in 120 infants, ages 12, 18, or 24 months. Girls looked at dolls significantly more than boys did and boys looked at cars significantly more than girls did, irrespective of color, particularly when brightness was controlled. These outcomes did not vary with age. There were no significant sex differences in infants' preferences for different colors or shapes. Instead, both girls and boys preferred reddish colors over blue and rounded over angular shapes. These findings augment prior evidence of sex-typed toy preferences in infants, but suggest that color and shape do not determine these sex differences. In fact, the direction of influence could be the opposite. Girls may learn to prefer pink, for instance, because the toys that they enjoy playing with are often colored pink. Regarding within sex differences, as opposed to differences between boys and girls, both boys and girls preferred dolls to cars at age 12-months. The preference of young boys for dolls over cars suggests that older boys' avoidance of dolls may be acquired. Similarly, the sex similarities in infants' preferences for colors and shapes suggest that any subsequent sex differences in these preferences may arise from socialization or cognitive gender development rather than inborn factors.
Archives of Sexual Behavior 03/2010; 39(6):1261-73. DOI:10.1007/s10508-010-9618-z · 3.53 Impact Factor