Who is smarter, boys or girls? or wrong question?

An elder in our church once gleefully told me that all geniuses were male. (I didn’t know at the time that the person with the highest recorded IQ was a woman.)

I have read in several places that human males tend to dominate both the top and the bottom of intelligence tests.  This places the females in the middle.

Why is this? Is it because our brains have different capabilities? Is a male brain with more data collecting neurons and generally more ability to limit activity to one task mean that they can attain genius status more readily?

Is a woman’s smaller, more connected and busier brain, more diffused in its tasks which leads to less capability in a few specific areas? Do hormone fluctuations contribute to capability?

Perhaps. But the whole story?

We do have dimorphic brains, but- except for a male’s brain having more areas dedicated to sex and a woman’s brain having a bigger corpus callosum possibly leading to her usually superior ability to detect emotions from facial expressions there is usually more variation within the gender group than between it.

For example, males show a tendency for better spacial skills. But, there is a greater difference between a person who has grown up in a crowded city than a person who has grown up in the open country than between genders of the same circumstances. (_Preaching that Speaks to Women_)

I do not like the thought that the majority of the world’s stupidest people are male, nor that females don’t have the capacity for elite brain function.

I am suspicious that this dichotomy comes from a deeper place- how we socialize, rather than how we think.

What I have noticed from personal experience and from reading authors such as Phyllis Chesler and Mary Pipher is that social pressures have huge impacts on social behaviour. Including how and what one uses one’s brain for.

Men seem more free to compete. The alpha male is rewarded for proving himself on top.

This is not generally true of women. If a woman excels past her group, she is often punished socially. (Punished by men and women, remember the message from “Annie, get your gun”? Pretend you are worse than you are or a man will not love you.)

Phyllis Chesler surmised that a woman excelling can place other insecure women in a position of vulnerability. They feel threatened and may choose to remove the threat by attacking the woman’s strength. On the other hand, a woman doing poorly allows the others to be generous and feel better about themselves.

Women tend to nurture those non-threatening people on the bottom. Nothing seems to rally a group of highschool girls more than a teary girl asking for help. I recall an Archie comic where the characters were talking about how much they disliked Betty for being so smart, so handy at fixing cars, so perfect. In the end, she pretended to be a clutz and deliberately did things poorly. She was duly rewarded by being welcomed back into the group now that they could help her.

I read of a study of physical fitness of inner-city schools in the US. The researchers became frustrated with the girls because the first girl to do poorly set the highest mark that the rest would perform to. The following girls refused to do better than her in fear of making her feel bad.

Some males, on the other hand, seem to punish the weaker member almost as if he were a threat to themselves. I’ve witnessed several boys in my grade be demolished by the rest due to poor sport and social skills. The attacks on these underdogs were vicious, and interestingly, reminded me of girls’ more subtle attacks on other girls who portrayed themselves as confident and capable.

These types of social behaviours may be a bigger factor in the intelligence results than actual potential. This could explain why girls fill the middle: they help those who struggle and pressure those who excel to hold back. Boys may fill the extremes because those who do well are rewarded and those who don’t are punished.

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