Doreen Kimura

Psychology

Behavioural Psychologist World expert on sex differences in the brain. Wrote the book Sex & Cognition, which argues that there truly is a difference between male and female brains.

"Don’t take too seriously the advice of people who supposedly know better than you do. As long as you are finding out things we didn’t know before, you are doing something right. "

Behavioural psychologists study the workings of the human brain to understand how people differ from each other. One method is to give people psychological tests.

Kimura currently studies how male and female brains process information differently — their cognitive functions. She also looks at how natural chemicals in our bodies, called hormones, relate to different cognitive patterns in men and women, in much the same way that other hormone studies have discovered different physical asymmetries in men and women. For example, researchers have found that, on average, men have larger right testicles and women have larger left breasts.

Kimura’s research has shown that, on average, men outperform women on a variety of spatial tasks, especially when an object must be identified in an altered orientation, or after certain imaginary manipulations such as folding. Men also excel at tests of mathematical reasoning, with the differences between sexes most remarkable when it comes to the most brilliant mathematicians. Women, in contrast, are generally better able to recall the spatial layout of an array of objects, to scan arrays quickly to find matching objects and to recall words, whether word lists or meaningful paragraphs. These sex differences usually begin at an early age and last a lifetime. They also occur across cultures.

Kimura is investigating why women have an advantage over men in the recall of verbal material. She has shown that this advantage applies to words such as “idea,” which convey abstract concepts, as well as to words like “potato,” which name real things. Strangely, she finds that, on average, women are not better at recalling nonsense words such as “borgin,” a preliminary finding she is pursuing.

Kimura experiments purely for the purpose of increasing human knowledge about the differences between men and women with no particular practical application in mind. However, in an environment where it can be politically dangerous to question popular notions of the equality of men and women, her research is perceived by some to be very controversial. Kimura believes it’s natural for men and women to choose different careers, preferring jobs that best fit their innate talents.

According to Kimura, the larger number of men in fields of mathematics, computing, engineering, and physics is a fact of life. She criticizes recent initiatives to increase the representation of women in these disciplines. She says, “Engaging in coercive social engineering to balance the sex ratios may actually be the worst kind of discrimination. It also serves to entice some people into fields they will neither excel in nor enjoy.”

sex differences in the brain

1. Mental Rotation Test: In this test, you must match the object on the left with two in the group on the right. On average, men can pick out matching rotated objects like these faster than women; women are better at matching objects when they have to pick them out of an array of objects.

2. Aphasias, or speech disorders, can occur when people’s brains are damaged by some kind of accident or disease. In women, aphasias occur more often when the brain damage is in the front of the brain. In men, these disorders occur when the damage is in the back of the brain.2. 

3. Kimura counts the number of finger ridges between two specific points on a person’s fingerprint. People with high ridge counts on the left hand are better at “feminine” tasks such as the visual matching tests above. On average, any sample group of people will have more ridges on their right hands. But Kimura has found that, on average, sample groups of women and groups of homosexual men have a higher incidence of individuals with more ridges on their left hands. Some people consider findings such as Kimura’s to be controversial: They would like to believe that there are no differences between men and women, or heterosexuals and homosexuals, or that these differences are not biological, but learned. Kimura has spent a lifetime conducting experiments that indicate there are statistically significant biological differences between men and women. In recent years she has de-emphasized the finger ridge studies, though she claims they still hold up to scientific scrutiny.


ACTIVITY

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MYSTERY

Kimura offered no mystery for future generations to solve, saying that it’s the unpredictability of science that makes it interesting.

Explore Further
  •  Doreen Kimura, Dissenting Opinions, 3 Wolves Press, 2002.
  •  Doreen Kimura, Sex & Cognition, MIT Press, 2000.
  •  Doreen Kimura, “Sex Differences in the Brain,” Scientific American, May 2002.
  • Kimura’s homepage: www.sfu.ca/~dkimura

     

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