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In the Name of God بسم الله

Women are naturally more empathetic than men

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Traditionally, differences in gender roles between men and women have been justified by actual innate difference between men and women.  For example, in justifying the gender roles of carer for women, and provider for men, people may say that women are psychologically and emotionally better suited to stay at home and look after the children, whereas men are better suited to go out and work.  

In their attempt to undermine traditional gender roles, feminists have downplayed the actual difference between men and women, and claimed that either they don't exist, or where they do exist they are due to social/cultural factors, not innate biological factors, and therefore have no normative value.  

I would like to look into the evidence from psychology for differences in men and women, and to what extent these differences are innate/biological versus cultural / due to socialisation.

I started with empathy, and read this 2014 review:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25236781

They present evidence that empathy is biological in origin, and therefore women are naturally more empathetic then men.  I have briefly noted some of the key evidence below.  Its worth noting that empathy is a complex phenomenon, and has a pre-reflective element that can easily be studied in animals and babies, involving 'mirroring' which is when an individual copies/reflects they body language of another in their own behaviour.  For example, writhing when seeing another in pain or automatically smiling when being smiled at.  For details on the exact studies have a look at the review.

Some key points:

 

  1. In animals with prolonged maternal care periods (where the female looks after the children for a prolonged period of time), females are more empathetic, e.g. in mirroring others, and they are also more quick to help other animals in need.

  2. This is explained by the fact that mums need to be responsive to baby's needs - having more empathy allows them to do that, and fulfill their roles as carers better.

  3. Women are overall more altruistic than men, and better at judging facial expressions, body language and emotion, all of which aid empathy.

  4. Female neonates more likely to cry, and cry longer than males when they hear an infant crying. This is a form of 'emotional contagion' and is likely a precursor to empathy.  This cannot be explained by socialisation.

  5. Female neonates also show greater mimicry (copying behaviours).  Giving males pacifiers which interfere with facial mimicry (ability to copy facial expressions) seems to have an impact on later emotional intelligence.

  6. Female toddlers show greater empathy than males.

  7. As do female adolescents compared to males

  8. Testosterone decreases empathy – one study involved giving it to females, and showed their ability to 'mind read' was reduced.  'Mind reading' is an important ingredient of empathy.  Men have more testosterone than women.

  9. Oxytocin increases empathy, and women have more of it than men

Edited by .InshAllah.
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These differences are also relevant to the question of gay couples adopting children.  If both men and women have innate differences that are relevant to bringing up a healthy family, then you lose something important if you have same-sex couples.  E.g. less empathy if 2 men adopt a child, versus 1 man and 1 woman

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The claim isn't that all women possess empathy to a very high degree, but that women are on average more empathetic than men.

Just like how men are on average stronger than women.  Pointing out a few strong women or a few weak men wouldn't disprove that.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for this. It reminds of these quotes by the feminist Simone de Beauvoir:

Quote

“Woman is weaker than man, she has less muscular strength, fewer red blood corpuscles, less lung capacity, she runs more slowly, can lift less heavy weights, can compete with man in hardly any sport; she cannot stand up to him in a fight. To all this weakness must be added the instability, the lack of control, and the fragility already discussed: these are facts. Her grasp on the world is thus more restricted; she has less firmness and less steadiness available for projects that in general she is less capable of carrying out. In other words, her individual life is less rich than man’s.”

On the average she is shorter than the male and lighter, her skeleton is more delicate, and the pelvis is larger in adaptation to the functions of pregnancy and childbirth; her connective tissues accumulate fat and her contours are thus more rounded than those of the male. Appearance in general – structure, skin, hair – is distinctly different in the two sexes. Muscular strength is much less in woman, about two thirds that of man; she has less respiratory capacity, the lungs and trachea being smaller. The larynx is relatively smaller, and in consequence the female voice is higher. The specific gravity of the blood is lower in woman and there is less haemoglobin; women are therefore less robust and more disposed to anaemia than are males. Their pulse is more rapid, the vascular system less stable, with ready blushing. Instability is strikingly characteristic of woman’s organisation in general; among other things, man showsgreater stability in the metabolism of calcium, woman fixing much less of this material and losing a good deal during menstruation and pregnancy. It would seem that in regard to calcium the ovaries exert a catabolic action, with resulting instability that brings on difficulties in the ovaries and in the thyroid, which is more developed in woman than in man. Irregularities in the endocrine secretions react on the sympathetic nervous system, and nervous and muscular control is uncertain. This lack in stability and controlunderlies woman’s emotionalism, which is bound up with circulatory fluctuations palpitation of the heart, blushing, and so forth – and on this account women are subject to such displays of agitation as tears, hysterical laughter, and nervous crises.”

https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/ch01.htm

It wouldn’t make sense then, that despite these differences, the role of men and women should be identical within society. This is why, for example, it is obligatory in Islam for the male to provide for his family but it is not obligatory for women to work.

Edited by 313_Waiter
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Posted (edited)

It would be a good thing for all of us, men and women, to cultivate both empathy and physical strength.

It is true that biochemical factors make women and girls more innately socially intelligent, and it's also true that there is great individual variability. Men are perfectly capable of developing social intelligence and women who do not exercise it are likely to suffer decrease.

Edited by notme
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Posted (edited)
On 3/26/2018 at 3:12 AM, .InshAllah. said:

Traditionally, differences in gender roles between men and women have been justified by actual innate difference between men and women.  For example, in justifying the gender roles of carer for women, and provider for men, people may say that women are psychologically and emotionally better suited to stay at home and look after the children, whereas men are better suited to go out and work.  

In their attempt to undermine traditional gender roles, feminists have downplayed the actual difference between men and women, and claimed that either they don't exist, or where they do exist they are due to social/cultural factors, not innate biological factors, and therefore have no normative value.  

I would like to look into the evidence from psychology for differences in men and women, and to what extent these differences are innate/biological versus cultural / due to socialisation.

I started with empathy, and read this 2014 review:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25236781

They present evidence that empathy is biological in origin, and therefore women are naturally more empathetic then men.  I have briefly noted some of the key evidence below.  Its worth noting that empathy is a complex phenomenon, and has a pre-reflective element that can easily be studied in animals and babies, involving 'mirroring' which is when an individual copies/reflects they body language of another in their own behaviour.  For example, writhing when seeing another in pain or automatically smiling when being smiled at.  For details on the exact studies have a look at the review.

Some key points:

 

  1. In animals with prolonged maternal care periods (where the female looks after the children for a prolonged period of time), females are more empathetic, e.g. in mirroring others, and they are also more quick to help other animals in need.

  2. This is explained by the fact that mums need to be responsive to baby's needs - having more empathy allows them to do that, and fulfill their roles as carers better.

  3. Women are overall more altruistic than men, and better at judging facial expressions, body language and emotion, all of which aid empathy.

  4. Female neonates more likely to cry, and cry longer than males when they hear an infant crying. This is a form of 'emotional contagion' and is likely a precursor to empathy.  This cannot be explained by socialisation.

  5. Female neonates also show greater mimicry (copying behaviours).  Giving males pacifiers which interfere with facial mimicry (ability to copy facial expressions) seems to have an impact on later emotional intelligence.

  6. Female toddlers show greater empathy than males.

  7. As do female adolescents compared to males

  8. Testosterone decreases empathy – one study involved giving it to females, and showed their ability to 'mind read' was reduced.  'Mind reading' is an important ingredient of empathy.  Men have more testosterone than women.

  9. Oxytocin increases empathy, and women have more of it than men

Assalam alaikum,

Mashallah, brother!

I was always intrigued by the question that whether certain biological/endocrinal aspects specific to women's physiology had no psychological impact whatsoever- if proven that they did have such an impact, this would settle the innate attributes versus social construct debate satisfactorily. Good to see sociobiological studies now confirming this.

On the other hand, post-modernist feminists like Judith Butler now argue that science/biology/anatomy itself is biased, and even biological sex is a social construct(!!!)- this, I feel, is the feminist project taken to its logical conclusion. When the naturalist epistemology/scientism began to give contrary or even agnostic conclusions to the project's ideological premises, the only way left was to ditch the epistemology itself.

Edited by AbdusSibtayn
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