Men vs. Women

Last updated: 14 February 2012

For Valentine's Day, Adam Walton asks whether there's a scientific basis to the idea that men are from Mars and women from Venus!

Broadcast Tuesday 14th February at 7pm

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Photograph courtesy of Clara Natoli

So, boys prefer playing with cars and girls with dolls. Men can't multi-task and women can't read maps. But is there any neurological or psychological basis to the stereotypical idea that male and female brains are different? In this week's programme Adam takes a closer look at the gender gap and asks whether it's hard-wired into our brains or simply a result of society and culture. He investigates the whole map-reading question and the way the two sexes listen and learn in the classroom. He also discovers that women have a better sense of smell.

The smell research is led by Prof. Tim Jacob at Cardiff University. He's studying the psychophysiology of smell - how we smell, why we smell and what differentiates different smell qualities. He reveals that women have a better sense of smell than men, possibly because evolution has equipped mothers to sense what's best to eat when they're pregnant and what to feed their infants.

Mike Parker, author of the book Map Addict comments on the idea that men have better spatial abilities and are therefore better map-readers than women are. Having investigated the question for his book, Mike's conclusion is that the sexes simply approach the task differently, with women using objects and landmarks to navigate more than men do.

Clear evidence of a gender gap seems to come every time GCSE exam results are published. Girls seem to consistently out-perform boys in the classroom: they get better results in their exams and are more likely to stay on at school to do 'A'-Levels. For this week's programme Science Cafe producer Tracy Cardwell visits John Summers High School in Flint to talk to teachers and students about the difference between girls' and boys' performance. And back in the studio, Adam talks to Dr. Gabrielle Ivinson from Cardiff University who has researched and written on gender and learning.

Finally, Adam puts a call in to Cordelia Fine a psychologist and writer who's associate professor in the Business School at the University of Melbourne. In her book Delusions of Gender she coined the term 'neurosexism' to describe the idea that unproven ideas about the brain - for instance that our brains are 'hard-wired' in particular ways according to our gender - have become widely accepted. She questions the idea that male and female brains are different from birth and discusses the role of social conditioning.


Prof. Tim Jacob's Smell Research Lab

Mike Parker

Gabrielle Ivinson

Cordelia Fine

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