Struggling to understand her reasoning and behaviour? Let science explain the intricacies of the female mind.
“I just don’t understand her,” one might say. “She’s so emotional,” another might pipe up. “She’s a slave to her hormones,” a third might interject.
These are all cliches, of course, but within each lies a nugget of truth. For sound biological or evolutionary reasons, men and women do think differently. Here are some of the scientifically verified secrets of a woman’s mind, because forewarned is forearmed.
Are women more jealous?
It’s a widely held view that women are more jealous than men. They are more possessive (the theory goes) and more likely to fly off the handle at any sign of interest from competing females.
Research has found that it’s not quite that simple. In fact, men and women both get jealous, but over subtly different things. A study published last year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences discovered that when men suspect infidelity, they’ll ask more questions about sex. When women suspect it, they’ll ask more questions about emotions.
That chimes with earlier research and evolutionary theory. We men are more jealous about physical infidelity because it calls into question our paternity (this is all deep down in our subconscious), and our biological raison d’etre is to pass on our genes.
A woman doesn’t have that worry, of course. She knows the child is hers. Instead, she is more concerned with emotional infidelity, because it threatens the protective family unit she needs to bring that child up securely.
That might explain why your partner can get jealous over what you consider to be a supportive, friendly, but sexually innocent relationship with a female friend.
Are women more emotional?
This is another old chestnut. Women are more emotional. They shed tears at every opportunity. They always know how to turn a minor drama into a major crisis.
According to the latest research, there’s a nugget of truth in that. Women are not more emotional, but they are more prone to ’emotional stress’. That might explain why she gets mad at you for your more laid-back attitude to being late, or getting lost, or financial difficulties.
In the study, levels of a stress hormone that barely registered in male rats excited the brains of female rats. And though the subjects were rodents, researchers say the results may well explain the difference in human male and female attitudes to stress.
“This may help to explain why women are twice as vulnerable as men to stress-related disorders,” said study leader Dr Rita Valentino, of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Men’s brains tend to cope better with stress hormones, making them less likely to turn that drama into a crisis.
But it’s just as true to say that men are too unemotional, rather than women are too emotional. One neuro-imaging study found that men are simply less equipped to read emotion than women, which might explain why we consider women over emotional.
Are women more moody?
A man who has forgotten to put the toilet seat down or take the rubbish out and received a verbal volley from his partner in return will often mutter about her irrational moodiness. And those poor put-upon males may have a point.
Aside from the hormonal changes associated with the female menstrual cycle (see below) new research also suggests that women may be naturally the moodier gender. Scientists at the University of Montreal found that men make 52% more of a hormone called serotonin than women. Serotonin is also known as the happy hormone, which might give you a clue as to what low levels can lead to.
Are women slaves to their hormones?
Women may make less serotonin, but in fact both sexes are slaves to their hormones. If you don’t believe us just visit a prison for violent male offenders. You’ll find an awful lot of testosterone swilling about in there.
That’s an extreme example, but it shows what hormones can do. Both men and women are affected by hormones, but on an everyday level (away from the prison yard) female hormonal imbalance can be more acute than its male equivalent. That’s why women suffer from the sometimes severe mood swings associated with PMS.
It’s also true that women interfere with their hormones more than men, principally through the contraceptive pill. Scientists at Stirling University claimed last year that the pill affects women’s choice in men. They found that women who took the pill were more likely to go for caring, steady men, rather than bad boys and dangerous, macho types.
Nobody’s quite sure why that should be, but there’s no doubt that hormones play a huge part in male and female personality. It’s just that the peaks and troughs of the female cycle tend to be more noticeable to the men in their lives.
Are women more illogical?
It’s certainly true, according to evolutionary psychology, that women should be more illogical. Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, has suggested that women’s thinking is more likely to be characterised by ’empathising tendencies’, and male thinking by ‘systemising tendencies’.
Or to put it more simply, women are people people, and men thing people. Women are better at empathising with other people, understanding them and figuring out character and personality traits. That’s because these skills were more useful to them in our evolutionary past.
Men had to be better at making tools and working out strategies for tracking and killing prey. So men are more likely to be ‘things’ people. We work things out, master them and then apply them to our advantage.
And that’s why, to us, women can seem a bit flaky and illogical, while to them, we can seem too practical and unemotional. It’s why we try to solve their problems for them, when they only want a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.
Of course, we should add that this doesn’t apply to everyone all the time. You get some very practical women and some very emotional men. It just means that, on average, women might be a little less practical than men.
What all this shows is that – surprise surprise – men and women really do think differently, some of the time. But there’s no right or wrong, better or worse. Both genders are the way they are for good reason, and it can be useful, and reassuring, to know what those reasons are.