London - Men’s and women’s brains really are different.
Researchers say that if both sexes had access to the same levels of education, they’d expect women to do best on tests of memory – and men to excel at maths.
The prediction comes after an analysis of how the sexes’ abilities varied across Europe across time.
More than 31 000 men and women aged 50-plus from 13 countries were put through three tests of brainpower.
The test of numeracy involved being given five questions, such as working out how much a cut-price car would have cost when new, while the memory test involved trying to remember a list of ten words.
The third test was of “verbal fluency” – and involved naming as many different animals as possible in a minute.
In northern Europe, women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s consistently outperformed the men in the memory test.
However, in southern Europe, where economic conditions were poorer for longer, the earliest born women did worse than the men. However, as education and living conditions improved, so did their performance and those born from around 1940 onwards beat their male counterparts.
Men came out top in the maths tests in all countries at all ages.
However, the gap narrowed as conditions improved, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
The researchers, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, said that women may benefit more than men from improvements in lifestyle because they were at a greater disadvantage to begin with.
They said the patterns mean that if men and women had equal access to education, females should do better than men.
Men should still to slightly better than maths – and the sexes should do equally well in quick fire tests of vocabulary.
It is thought the differing strengths can be explained by differences in the biology of the brain as well as in the way the sexes are treated by society. - Daily Mail