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picture of book coverNo. 568, May 28, 2007

The review

A Great Book

read by Jonas Himmelstrand

The Essential Difference

The subject of possible gender differences is a sensitive issue in many countries today – not the least in Sweden. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has done many years of study on the brain. In his book, The Essential Difference, he contends that although the difference between male and female brains is small there are definite statistical differences between men as a group and women as a group.

He states this difference bluntly in the first page of the book: "The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems."

Having said that he also says that there is a big difference within the sexes. So great that the world’s greatest mathematician could be a woman, although there are fewer female mathematicians than male mathematicians.

Baron-Cohen came into the subject area through his father’s research on the autistic brain, seeing the autistic brain as an extremely male brain, excellent on understanding systems but poor on empathy.

One of the methods in Baron-Cohen’s research has been to let people try to interpret pictures of facial expressions where only the eyes are shown. To not be influenced by social factors he has also let newborn children see different pictures showing faces and other more complicated figures requiring systems thinking.

Baron-Cohen gives an excellent description of how evolution could have fostered these differences in the male and female brain. He writes in low-key non-aggressive manner, making this controversial book easy and very interesting to read.

The Essential Difference, by Simon Baron-Cohen.
Penguin Books Ltd 2004. ISBN 0-141-01101-7. 288 pages.

© 2007 Strategies to Learn & Grow Newsletter • Printable version

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