As we move toward greater equality of the sexes, you would think that the old stereotype that women are more cooperative, nurturing and emotional while men are more competitive and assertive would lessen as women gain more equal rights and similar jobs. That's why psychologists have been struggling to explain why personality tests from people all over the world show that in wealthy modern societies with more equality of the sexes, the personality differences between men and women are actually becoming more pronounced. In a new study, researchers say they've found the answer: as we level the playing field for men and women, some innate personality traits from our hunter-gatherer days are being revived.Psychologists from Bradley University of Illinois say that both physical and social stresses in poorer countries are the reason that there is less of a personality difference in those societies. The personality tests of men in these countries suggest that they are more cautious, anxious, and less assertive than men in wealthy societies, and researchers say this may be because their natural biological traits are muted because their growth is stunted by disease and malnutrition. Evidence shows that poorer agricultural societies where a few men hold the power are actually unnatural, because hunter-gatherers were actually more egalitarian. They suggest that modern progressive cultures are actually moving us back to a more ancient state where men and women were considered equal overall, but had predisposed interests in different domains. But some, like John Tierney in a NY Times blog post, say the gap is more likely just an illusion resulting from the way people in different cultures interpret the personality tests. For example, in a traditional culture like that found in Bangladesh, a man may rate his aggressiveness as average because he's comparing himself only to other men in his society, or a woman may rate her benevolence lower than a woman in a wealthy society because she's acting out or social duty, not personal kindness. Another study out today suggests that the differences between men and women may be less culturally motivated and have more to do with how men and women are wired biologically. In trying to understand why men and women of equal intelligence tend to excel at different cognitive tasks, Spanish researchers studied brain tissue from the left temporal cortex and found that men had 52% more synapses in that region than women, and they suspect there are other brain regions where women have greater synaptic density than men. As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen [NY Times] Gender Differences Seen In Brain Connections [New Scientist]
The research on the number of synapses in certain brain regions by gender is interesting.
The other part I'm ignoring since it doesn't take into account cultural differences or the fact that because someone says something is equal doesn't mean it actually is equal.