After looking at nearly 80,000 brain SPECT scans over the last twenty-two years, one thing is abundantly clear, the male and female brain are very different. It was this fascinating difference that led me to write my new book in which I outline six ways the female brain is more capable than the male’s. Given these differences it’s not surprising that a recent study of more than 75,000 adults showed women are more empathic than men.
“Overall, late middle-aged adults were higher in both of the aspects of empathy that we measured,” says Sara Konrath, co-author of an article on age and empathy forthcoming in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences. “They reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others.”
For the study, researchers Ed O’Brien, Konrath and Linda Hagen at the University of Michigan and Daniel Grühn at North Carolina State University analyzed data on empathy from three separate large samples of American adults, two of which were taken from the nationally representative General Social Survey.
They found consistent evidence of an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more. According to O’Brien, this pattern may result because increasing levels of cognitive abilities and experience improve emotional functioning during the first part of the adult life span, while cognitive declines diminish emotional functioning in the second half.
More research is needed in order to understand whether this pattern is really the result of an individual’s age, or whether it is a generational effect reflecting the socialization of adults who are now in late middle age.
“Americans born in the 1950s and ’60s — the middle-aged people in our samples — were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various antiwar countercultures,” the authors explain. “It may be that today’s middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of other groups.”
Earlier research by O’Brien, Konrath and colleagues found declines in empathy and higher levels of narcissism among young people today as compared to earlier generations of young adults.
O’Brien and Konrath plan to conduct additional research on empathy, to explore whether people can be trained to show more empathy using new electronic media, for example. “Given the fundamental role of empathy in everyday social life and its relationship to many important social activities such as volunteering and donating to charities, it’s important to learn as much as we can about what factors increase and decrease empathic responding,” says Konrath.
Empathy is the ability to recognize and share other people’s experiences, or the ability to put yourself in another’s position and feel what they feel and it is one the key strengths of the female brain.
Another article that looked at empathy was entitled: “What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women.” The article reported on a study in which teams were given a number of tasks involving brainstorming, decision-making, and problem solving. Teams were given collective intelligence scores based on their performance.
Guess which teams did better? If you guessed that it was the teams that had higher individual IQ scores, you would be wrong. The teams that had a higher “group IQ” were the teams with more women. A woman’s enhanced empathic response may give her an advantage of building a consensus within a group. Many women leaders encourage collaboration over individual power. And all of this may serve to make them excellent leaders.
In my new book Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, I explore these unique strengths: empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control, and a little worry, and I also show you how to overcome some of its special vulnerabilities, such as depression, perfectionism, and an inability to let go of negative thoughts.
I’ll also show you, step-by-step, exactly how to unleash the power of the female brain. You’ll learn:
- How hormone balance is crucial to optimal brain function
- Why keeping your gut healthy is essential to mental health and how high-intensity exercise can actually hinder your efforts
- The 6 types of ADD and why proper treatment of these attention issues can improve your sex life
- How sexual activity may actually make your smarter and less likely to develop dementia
- Why grape-seed extract may be a magic elixir for your skin and brain
- Whether Mommy Brain exists and what an amazing asset it might really be