Men read faces (but not books) better than women

But who's better at reading minds? Bwahahahaha!

Published June 13, 2006 4:15PM (EDT)

OK, just to make sure everyone is keeping up with the Timeses. On Sunday, Broadsheet repeat offender David Brooks wrote a column about how the differences between boys' and girls' brains shape the ways in which they learn. Boys like black and gray crayons, don't love to talk about feelings, enjoy risk and reading violent books about alienation. When not educated with the aid of black and gray crayons, risky recesses and violent books about alienation, they grow to hate reading and drop out of school because they've been treated like girls. (Pardon my rough translation.)

But good news, gentlemen! Today's Times tells us that it's OK that you're not so much readers of complex touchy-feely emotional texts. Because you're way better than your chick counterparts at reading complex emotional expressions on the faces of other people. Well, if those complex emotional expressions are angry ones, anyway. Though the coverline on the Times home page reads "Men Are Better Than Women at Reading Faces," it turns out that they're better only at reading fury. What emotions are women better at recognizing? I bet you can guess ...

Yup! Women excel at spotting happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust (not coincidentally, all emotions that run rampant through "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights," two of the tomes Brooks fingered on Sunday as the kind of dastardly girl books that make boys hate reading). The experiment, which is written up in the June issue of Current Biology, showed pictures of faces to 78 men and women. Both sexes were quick to pick out an image of an angry man, presumably for evolutionary reasons. "The potential for a physical threat from a male is greater than that from a female," the researchers write.

It's a really interesting piece and an interesting study. Whatever your feelings about the role of evolutionary biology in gender differences, it's worth a read. But weirdly, in the middle of it, the article throws in a couple of bonus differences between gender skill sets. "Women ... tend to perform better than men at fine motor tasks, while men are better at finding directions using a map."

Hey, let's all play! I say: Men are better at peeing standing up than women, and women are better at having babies than men. Come on, let's think of more!

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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