Re: Geary Response

From: Harte Tommy (
Date: Wed Feb 25 1998 - 22:48:15 GMT

Response to Pippa Hale [ph]

> R1. Natural and sexual selection

> While females compete more than males in terms of physical signals
> that indicate youth, males compete more directly for social status,
> i.e., resource control; females prefer males with resources, if they
> are willing to invest those resources in the family (Buss 1989;
> Feingold 1992).

ph> More females need their own status not that provided by a male.
ph> Many females would like to be able to provide for themselves and their
ph> family. Females are not just after money in the same way males are not
ph> just after looks.

True, but here Geary is looking at sexual differences relating to natural
selection, which looks at how our actions now can be explained through
behaviour that was evolutionary beneficial in the past. In the environment
in which we evolved it was more of a reproductive advantage for women to
choose a mate through physical appearance and possessions to ensure the
best chance of survival for their offspring. That is why we still have these
hang-ups of our ancestors - Though now our environment (society) has
changed they are not as appropriate.
> R2. Primary and secondary abilities
> it is assumed that children's play is a
> natural means for fleshing out implicit knowledge associated with
> primary cognitive domains and for ensuring the normal development of
> the underlying neurobiological systems (Geary 1995a).

ph> Children's play is an important aspect of their maturation and growth.
ph> It can teach them to interact with other children and therefore teach
ph> social skills. It can also introduce basic intellectual concepts at
ph> an early age.

Play also shows how it^“s used as an early definition of social roles. This
can be seen through gender stereotyped play in both boys and girls. Play is a
useful way to practice implicit skills that are useful in later development
e.g. counting. So that later secondary abilities can build upon and apply this
primary knowledge.

> I believe that much of human behaviour, that of children and adults, is guided
> by implicit knowledge . People in general prefer models that emphasise
> conscious decisions because it provides them with a sense of control. This
> sense of control is psychologically comforting but not necessarily
> scientifically correct (Heckhausen & Schulz 1995).

ph> People do not like to believe that they do not know what is going on. It is far
ph> easier for them to believe that the reason behind people's actions is
ph> due to their conscious decision making than some implicit knowledge.

A feeling of self control is important to many people^“s concepts of themselves
e.g. Esteem , Worth. Whether we actually have this control over our actions is
a debatable subject . Davis and Geary emphasise the importance of implicit
knowledge and how it can greatly affect our behaviour. Also to be noted in this
area are the effects of social and cultural factors involving behaviour relating to
tradition, groups, social roles, legislation e.t.c. All of which effects our actions
and reduces the amount of control we actually have.

> R3. Testable hypotheses
> However, I do not agree with the suggestion that the processes
> associated with solving Mental Rotation Test (MRT) items and the
> tracking of moving trajectories is related to foraging or weaving
> and not related to navigation or the use of primitive weapons as
> suggested in the target article..
> ...males and females differ in the strategies used to navigate
> (use of geometric knowledge vs. use of landmarks) and show different
> ability profiles even within the broader spatial domain. In my
> opinion, the principles of sexual selection, broadly defined to
> include the sexual division of labor, should provide the
> meta-theoretical perspective for examining these and related sex
> differences.

ph> How do these differences help us now? Surely males and females roles
ph> in society are becoming more and more equal so that the differences in
ph> their skill should be reduced in years to come. Why should females
ph> need to be good at memory for object location and differ in navigation
ph> techniques? Will males and females skills become equal through
ph> evolution so that the most efficient skills are developed?

Again, we have these differences due to past selection of them within
the environment in which we evolved. Although gender roles in society
have become more equal in many cultures it^“s not as simple for these
innate differences to change. Perhaps if it became of significant reproductive
advantage for women to be better at navigational techniques and men at
memory, then things may eventually even out through natural selection.

> R4. Behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology
> It is very likely that the
> differential expression of these genes is related to a combination
> of sex hormones and experience, although I would assume, as others
> have, that the hormonal and experiential effects are related--that
> is, hormones likely influence niche seeking differences comparing
> males and females (see section R6.5). On this view, the expression
> of the sex difference in spatial abilities (and some other
> abilities) might be sex linked, as suggested by Crow, but these
> would be modifier genes associated with sex hormones and not the
> spatial genes per se.

ph> I would agree that spatial abilities are not only influenced by genes
ph> but are affected by sex hormones but would this mean that are
ph> intellectual level changes over time? If our hormones do affect our
ph> spatial abilities testing females should be done at different stages
ph> during their menstrual cycle.

It has, and results show that for normally cycling females performance
on spatial tests is worse when oestrogen levels are at their highest (Hampson
& Kimura 1988). Also for young males performance varies with testosterone
 levels (though not literally) and peaks in Spring. (kimura & Hampson 1994)

> R6. Sex differences
> Newcombe and Baenninger and Tan suggest that the finding of a
> nonlinear relation >between testosterone levels and spatial
> abilities in males argues against the position that the sex
> difference in spatial abilities has been shaped by sexual selection.
> There is no a priori reason to suppose that circulating testosterone
> levels should be linearly related to characteristics that have been
> shaped by sexual selection.

ph> I think it is important that hormonal levels are taken into
ph> consideration when dealing with the spatial abilities of both males
ph> and females. Hormones do affect a lot of our responses and the
ph> levels are constantly changing. I would agree that the fact that
ph> testosterone levels in males had no effect on spatial abilities would
ph> go against sexual selection.

Yes, it seems to make sense that hormone levels will affect spatial abilities.
The presence (or absence) of a particular hormone at a stage in embryo
development will determine a child^“s gender, and subsequent releases
of certain hormones at particular times control other aspects of development.
Another way that the importance of hormone levels can be seen is the
two way relationship between it and behaviour, e.g. higher than average
levels of testosterone are found in prisoners of violent crimes and watching
your football team win can increase testosterone levels. So the significance
of hormones is clear and it seems that it should be seen as a possible influence
of spatial abilities.

> Finally, Wynn, Tierson, and Palmer suggest that primitive weapons
> appeared roughly >500,000 years ago and that this is not enough time
> for evolutionary pressures to have acted on any spatial abilities
> associated with their use., but even if such weapons had not appeared until 50,000 or
> 15,000 years ago, evolutionary >pressures would certainly have acted
> on any associated abilities, if individuals who were skilled at the
> use of these weapons had an advantage over less skilled >competitors
> (Symons 1979).

ph> I am not sure how long it would take for evolutionary pressures to
ph> develop but I am unsure as to the reason for male spatial ability
ph> being different to women's due to the use of weapons for hunting.

I don^“t think that there is any set time of evolutionary pressures to develop,
rather it depends on how relevant that certain pressure is on our survival
in the present environment; for example, if the only source of food is
from an animal that can only be killed with a stone-age hand-axe then those
who are adept at making and using them will survive. The other, not so skilled,
will starve and die off.
I^“m also unsure how male spatial ability can relate to weapons and hunting.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that in primitive cultures some
successful males had a lot of land to hunt in and watch over. And this need to
hunt and be alert meant that males with good spatial abilities survived through
natural selection.

> Second, more recent research has shown a complex pattern of sex
> differences in the >sensitivity to the emotions signalled by facial
> expressions (Erwin et al.
> 1992). For instance, females are more sensitive to the emotional
> signals of males, in >comparison to males' sensitivity to the
> emotional signals of females (see also Epstein).

ph> I would say this is true. Females do look more into facial
ph> expressions and their related emotions. This may be due to the fact
ph> that they feel they need to know or even like to know how others are
ph> feeling. Males may just think they know or may not be as aware of the
ph> emotions that are linked to the expressions.

These types of difference (females being more sensitive to the phrasing
of word problems and facial expressions) may be related to early forms
of play. Females are more inclines to tell ^—people based^“ stories, where
males^“ are more ^—object-based^“. This may be a social factor that increases
female^“s interaction with others and makes them better at interpretation in general.

> Finally, the argument that the sex difference in object/person
> orientations found in >adolescents and adults is due to "cultural
> immersion" is in need of empirical support. This is because
> behavioral genetic studies suggest that biological >influences on
> social behavior and personality are actually more strongly expressed
> in adolescence and adulthood than they are in infancy and childhood,
> presumably through >active niche seeking (e.g., Rowe 1994).

ph> I would have thought that culture would have an effect. You are
ph> affected by the environment you live in and are raised in. This need
ph> not be only your family but also your peers.

Both cultural and biological influences have an effect in all stages
especially adolescence. Whether one is greater than the other at any
one point is always a debatable subject with many other aspects other
than just mathematical ability.

> R7. Socialization and stereotypes
>"teachers' (had a) more favorable impression of
> girls' effort ... The results regarding effort are consistent with a
> growing body of literature showing that >school is often a hostile
> place for boys" (p. 266).

ph> I think that there is a negative attitude towards males in the
ph> classroom. I believe that they like to put on one act in the
ph> classroom but may be are prepared to work more out of the classroom.

School holds a lot of social challenges for everyone. But the nature of
these challenges/problems are different for both sexes and so result in
different behaviours. This often results in pupils acting in
stereotypical ways determined by social forces. For males this often
involves them acting loud, dominant, aggressive e.t.c. which can affect
how they learn and are taught.

> R8. Social implications
> Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the following findings,
> a) the male advantage in >mathematics is selective, and b) girls in
> most other countries outperform American boys on standardized
> mathematical ability tests (e.g., the SAT-M). The latter >finding is
> particularly important because it suggests many girls can develop
> the mathematical abilities needed to enter math-intensive fields. At
> the same time, it is also >unlikely, given the sex differences in
> complex spatial abilities and in object/person orientations, that
> there will be a 1:1 ratio of males:females entering and >excelling
> in math-intensive areas, particularly in societies where females and
> males choose their own occupations (e.g., Humphreys et al. 1993).

ph> It appears that it may be possible for females to achieve high status
ph> in math-intensive fields. Although in our society we do have a choice
ph> into which field we would like to work in and there may not be the
ph> opportunities for all who want to achieve in the math-intensive
ph> fields.

True, although there is said to be more equal opportunities the types of
maths-intensive jobs are still largely dominated by males. Perhaps this
is why less females pursue a further education in this field, or perhaps it
is due to it.

> The perspective does imply, however, that if the goal is educational
> and economic equality >than we must educate boys and girls
> differently in some areas; equal outcome may require unequal
> treatment. Girls would >benefit, more than boys, from more
> spatial-related experience, and more direct teaching on diagramming
> and spatially representing mathematical relationships. In >contrast,
> boys would benefit, more than girls, from more direct instruction in
> reading and writing.

ph> If this could be possible it may be the best solution to the
ph> differences in the abilities of males and females. Although it would
ph> probably mean single sex classes.

It seems unrealistic that this could ever happen even if it means an equal
outcome in the end. There are probably better ways to change the balance
that involve looking at what effects, influences and hinders people^“s
choice of education and career.

Harte Tommy

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