Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sex Differences: Spelke vs. Pinker

The debate over the question of difference between the sexes is advanced in the best academic tradition at Edge.org between two eminent Harvard psychologists: Elizabeth Spelke and the Montreal-born Steven Pinker.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

I tend to think that most sex differences are cultural, although I also acknowledge that biological factors do come into play. I think that so many behaviours and practices and preferences are learned according to how we are raised (and how those around us place expectations on us according to our sex), but it's often difficult to say which differences are purely cultural and which ones are purely biological. I know that my personal experience as a female did not match the stats of Pinker's findings. Men are more competitive? That's news to me. I would change the statement and say: "It is more acceptable in our society for men to be more competitive and openly competitive, but women are DEFINITELY just as competitive as men. Some women have just learned to conceal their competitive nature, because that's what's expected of them." Men like objects more than people? Huh? I guess maybe if we're going with stereotypes or expectations placed on the genders. Pinker's examples of men 'liking objects' included becoming engineers, mechanics, or mathematicians. What about artists? They spend hours alone, away from people, concocting images from objects and 'stuff'. Would art be considered a form of mechanics or engineering? In my own experience, I have always felt 'female' but have always had interests across the spectrum, so to speak. My two loves in high school were biology and english -- in terms of Pinker's categories biology would be more object based and english more people based. It just happened to be the case that I loved english just a bit more, which is why I'm studying it now. When I was little I played Barbies sometimes, but Barbies were often accompanied by muscular and menacing action figures from my brother's collection which frequently preyed on Barbies' friends and pets. I also spent the majority of my time outside making forts or 'riding bike'. And when I got my first Nintendo I holed up at home and wasn't seen by my friends for days. And books....I stayed far far away from the Babysitters Club books that my friends were reading. I read one Babysitters book by force and it was the most boring thing ever. I read books where people got killed, space ships ran in to each other, dragons ate knights, etc. etc.. But I still liked makeup and dressing up...but then again, so did my brother. :)
So, the debate was an interesting read, and I just wanted to throw in a personal perspective. I know the power of perceptions and expectations (which are two words Spelke used) are huge, so I tend to think they play a larger role in shaping sex differences.