Are men good at multi-tasking and can women read maps?

Author Gavin Evans has explored the conventional roles that society has placed on genders over the years. In his new book, Mapreaders and Multitaskers, he explains why male and females brains are not too dissimilar, as our emotions and intellect are actually moulded by culture rather than biology.

The writer was born in Middlesex Hospital but grew up in South Africa during the period of Apartheid. He worked as a journalist and was detained without trial after getting involved in the anti-apartheid campaign.

Over the last year, the 56-year-old, who now lives in Hornsey, has been teaching journalism and media law at Birkbeck College at the University Of London, but wanted to write this book after being inspired by his children.

While his two daughters were growing up, he found that he disagreed with self-help writers and evolutionary psychologists who put girls and boys into different categories.

After conducting his own studies by immersing himself in evolutionary biology, neurology and cognitive psychology, Gavin discovered the differences between the brains and minds of males and females were hugely exaggerated, and that a great deal of what we think of as typically masculine or feminine was a result of culture and not genetics.

As a result, he began to write Mapreaders & Multitaskers, to counter the myths that still get cited as conventional wisdom, such as women are better at multi-tasking than men, women are more “verbal” and talk more than men, or that baby boys are more interested in objects and girls in faces.

Gavin studied law for a year at Southwest Texas State University, then majored in economic history at the University of Cape Town, and followed that with a post-graduate degree in the same subject in order to keep out of the apartheid army.

He shares snippets of what he discovered while delving into the minds of men and women…

Why does brain imaging show men and women using different neural pathways?

It has been over-interpreted, based on prior assumptions of major behaviour differences between men and women. If you make the opposite assumption then what it shows is that people can use different neural pathways to reach the same outcomes. After all, left and right-handed people, and big headed and small headed people, use different neural pathways.

But we know that women are better at multitasking …

There have been two big studies on multi-tasking. The English one showed a tiny edge for women; the Swedish one showed the opposite – men had a slight edge. Either way there was nothing in it.

Why do male babies spend more time looking at objects and female babies at faces?

They don’t. The problem with this single study was that the researcher was aware which babies were boys and girls. Since then better-designed studies, where the researcher did not know the sex of the babies, found no difference between boy and girl babies when it came to faces or objects.

Why do women talk far more than men….

They don’t. This came from the author Louann Brizendine who claimed women use 20,000 words a day, men 7,000. She publicly withdrew the claim after admitting she lifted it from a self-help book. Later a study involving 32,000 Americans and Mexicans, which involved snatches of their conversation being recorded, found that men and women used the same number of words each day.

Are women better at nurturing because of their hormonally-prompted maternal instinct?

This idea is based on evidence of increased levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin and of the ‘social bonding hormone’ vasopressin during pregnancy. Boys and girls have similar levels of these hormones but pregnant women do experience a surge. However, males also experience a surge after intimate contact with their children – along with a reduction in their testosterone levels.

So is the fact that women pay more attention to how they look entirely cultural?

That’s trickier. It could be that its origins go back 10,000 years when women became part of the agricultural property system - with their value was enhanced by being alluring. There might also be some unknown biological nudge – although there are no adornment genes.

Are you saying the only other sex differences relate to breeding equipment and size?

No. Women carry babies for nine months and breast feed them, giving them an edge when it comes to nurturing. They menstruate and go through menopause, which can affect mood. There are other more peripheral differences. For example, men are more likely to be colour blind. But most differences are exaggerated and many are simply invented.

Mapreaders and Multitaskers is available to buy on Amazon.