Are men and women from the same planet? Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the third-best-selling book of the 1990s, popularized the phrase while claiming to distinguish the differences between male and female thought processes and communication tactics in relationships. The book advocates that the key to a healthy relationship is accepting the unique nature of each gender’s home “planet.” Academics criticized the book for playing into gender stereotypes, with a Purdue University study arguing against the notion of significant differences between the sexes.
A new study published in the online journal PLoS ONE appears to reinforce the Mars versus Venus theory by suggesting that there are great differences in personality between men and women. The paper details a metric for measuring emotional and behavioural patterns in personality that the authors believe to be more accurate than previous methods. Data was collected from the 1993 US standardization sample of more than 10,000 people.
According to this study, conducted by Marco Del Giudice of the University of Turin and Tom Booth and Paul Irwing of the University of Manchester, men were stronger in emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness, and vigilance compared to women. Meanwhile, women showed greater sensitivity, warmth, and apprehension than their male counterparts.
The study conflicts with the consensus view in academia that men and women are very similar in personality, even in stereotyped areas of gender difference such as self-esteem, leadership, and math skills. This idea was notably set out in 2005 by Janet Shibley Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She conducted a meta-analysis of 46 other studies to conclude that “males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables.”
Del Giudice and colleagues believe that previous study results in this subject were skewed by faulty experimentation methods. For example, other researchers would simply add up all the survey responses, or set the scope of measured personality traits to be too broad (thus hiding some differences between the sexes) or too narrow (yielding unreliability and a greater signal-to-noise ratio). Instead, the researchers developed what they call “structure equation modelling,” a method which reportedly eliminates random errors caused by careless responses and misreadings.
They took data from a 1993 psychological survey of American men and women and using their method they numerically determined that previous studies greatly underestimated sex differences in personality. The authors claim that from an evolutionary perspective, such differences affect mating and parenting behaviours such as sexual promiscuity, relationship stability, and divorce. These differences ought to be expected in areas where males and females have historically faced contrasting adaptive problems. Personality may also affect sex differences in aggression and vocational interests.
Hyde commented on the new study in the Huffington Post: “This huge difference is not only scientifically false; it has unfortunate consequences for places like the workplace and education and heterosexual romantic relationships.”
Mari Ruti, professor of critical theory at the University of Toronto, as well as author of the mainstream book The Case for Falling in Love, echoes this sentiment. “Of course, gender differences exist, but they are due to socialization, and the more we insist on them, the more solidified (seemingly fixed) they become, with the result that it’s even harder to build a more gender-egalitarian world.”
Del Giudice and colleagues hope their work opens doors to research on the biological and cultural roots of the concept of masculinity and femininity, as well as how individual differences influence vocational interests, cognitive abilities, and creativity.