Cognitive Differences: Preference for Closed, Rule-Based Systems between Females and Males - Is Conservatism an Extreme form of The Male Brain?

Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019

Cognitive Differences: Preference for Closed, Rule-Based Systems between Females and Males
Is Conservatism an Extreme form of The Male Brain?

In addition to overall differences in the preference for social hierarchy, men and women generally process information differently, with men showing a tendency to prefer what Baron-Cohen describes as “closed systems”—systems that are predictable, factual, rule-based, knowable, and to some extent controllable, such as computers. For this reason, men generally tend to perform better at math, physics, and engineering, and are far overrepresented in those fields. Here let us again avoid the pitfall of confusing increased likelihood with determinism, or some preposterous conclusion that such research means (or even intends to argue) that women can't excel in these fields—they can, and often do. Indeed, studies find that sex differences in these areas are small, and more visible primarily on the extreme ends of ability and achievement.57 But differences remain, and we continue to look into the gaps for the wealth of understanding they provide. It is striking that while sociocultural factors may explain some of these sex variances, a fairly substantial body of research has found higher autism traits among those in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields than those in non-STEM fields.58

People with “extreme male brains” may be especially gifted at things like engineering, writing coding language, or doing physics; however they tend to get confused and overwhelmed by ambiguity. Human beings are “open systems” with highly variable (and therefore less predictable) patterns than, say, math or computers. For this reason human interaction often causes distress in those with autism. As Baron-Cohen explains it, in social interactions (higher-functioning) individuals with autism attempt to “work out a huge set of rules of how to behave in each and every situation, attempting to develop a mental ’manual’ for social interaction of ’if-then’ rules. It is as though they are trying to systemise social behaviour when the natural approach to socialising should be via empathizing.”59 As a result, those in the autism spectrum tend to prefer solitude, along with clear rules in the home, at school, or in their mental activities, such as writing coding language or doing physics.

A corollary is that people with autism tend to prefer neatness and order. They will arrange their personal effects in a line or meticulously categorize them according to color, purpose, size, or some other rule-based category. Often those with autism can immediately detect if something has been misarranged, which tends to cause immensely more stress than it would those without the disorder.