When I was a kid, all enlightened people knew that gender stereotypes were the reason that boys preferred playing with trucks and girls preferred playing with dolls. The only people who didn't believe that gender stereotypes controlled childhood behavior were the uneducated and . . . parents trying to raise their kids in stereotype-free conditions. For some reason the little boys were fashioning imaginary guns out of bananas, sticks, and their own genitalia while little girls were doing whatever you do when you're not pretending to shoot people. The common explanation for the differences in boys and girls was that there's no such thing as a stereotype-free environment. There's always leakage, and kids are like sponges when it comes to role models. That explanation sounded reasonable to me for years.

Recently scientists have discovered that adolescent male monkeys prefer playing with trucks while adolescent female monkeys prefer dolls. As it turns out, toy preferences are more about chemistry than society.

You might say the monkey study is one more step in humanity's slow-motion "discovery" that human behavior is caused by whatever chemicals are sloshing around in our skulls. On one hand we all know that the physical composition of our brains at any given moment dictates our choices, and yet we cling to the superstition that we exercise some sort of free will. Science, being awesome, keeps chipping away at that magical thinking.

In another study that I find more mind-boggling than the monkey research, scientists have found that women change their preferences in men when they go on birth control. Before the pill, women prefer men with high testosterone. After the pill, they prefer men with low testosterone. That process sounds like this: "Gee, Ted, I was hot for you until I started taking birth control pills. Now you look like an arrogant douche."

The interesting thing is how a woman would interpret this revised view of Ted. I think a normal human in that situation would assume that either Ted became a worse human being or his existing bad qualities became harder to hide over time. No one would ever say the apparent changes in Ted are caused by a pill, or diet, or exercise, or any change in the observer's brain chemistry. We believe our changes of opinion are caused by changes in the environment. It's similar to the way parents once believed gender stereotypes caused little boys to prefer toy trucks. Our reflex is to blame the environment and not our own brain chemistry.

Yesterday I found myself getting angry because something that had been in a closet in the garage wouldn't fit back in. I had two conversations happening in my head at the same time. The irrational part of me was pretty sure my anger was sparked by the frustrating closet situation, i.e. my environment. The rational part of me realized that I hadn't exercised for two days, which is unusual for me, and I get grumpy 100% of the time in that situation. So today I'll play tennis to fix my brain. By tonight I will be immune to the frustration of uncooperative storage spaces.

My neighborly advice for today is this: If you think your environment has taken a turn for the worse, consider the alternative explanation. Maybe the only thing that changed is your brain chemistry. Take a nap, drink some coffee, go for a walk, pet the dog, and try again.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +167
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:


Sort By:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 10, 2012
Yes that's all true (apart from some of the sloppy science that you quote), but I don't like it if you call it "brain chemistry". It takes away the magic. I like magic.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 9, 2012
Coffmeister, you're either stupid or delusional, or both stupid and delusional. Males are significantly different from females in their behaviour in *every single species in the animal kingdom*. Males are significant different from females in their behaviour in *every single human culture that's ever been observed*. Hormones have been linked to changes in behaviour. Just shut up, would you?
Sep 9, 2012
@ everyone who voted me down. Nice, I challenge Scott on the fact that the article he quotes has no evidence to support it and you vote me down. Good team work everyone!

@ whtllnew

???...'women inferior to men'? I saw nothing in that post to suggest such a thing. All I saw was evidence that regardless of society there is some predisposition in girls to play with dolls and in boys to play with trucks.

C- I apologise, I have to reject the premise of your question that there was evidence in those articles. Did you click through to the links? Do you honestly think that there isn't a massive corporate culture biased to "gendering" children and making them stick with it from an incredibly young age. http://www.pinkstinks.co.uk/ would just be one example of a place where you can collect and look at this sort of thing.

"And evidence that a woman's behavior can be influenced by the pills she's taking (is it really news to anyone that the pills we take can influence our behavior?)"

C- I do not contest that men or women can have their brain chemistry altered by chemicals from either pharmaceutical, recreational, food, environmental or exercise sources. I think that the thrust of the article is bang on, the illustration of it to be horribly sexist and perpetuating bashing of women. Also, the "evidence" it quotes is just. Not. There. It's wearing science's clothes to get respectability and to see people who I had thought of as intelligent being taken in makes me rage and despair at the embedded sexism.

" So are you saying kids who play with dolls are inferior to kids who play with trucks?"

C- No. I am saying that girls should be able to play with both, but are given the strong message from a very young age that there are girl toys and that there are boy toys. There are big advantages to picking a gender and sticking with it. Anyone got kids here? Any daughters who _don't_ want to dress up as princesses or ballerinas? Why is that? Must be nature right. Can't be culture, surely kids that young can't notice culture. What if your little boy wants to wear a dress? What message would his parents give him? His peers? His schoolteachers? People in the street.

"That men aren't allowed to notice a difference between the sexes even when we aren't making value judgements on said difference? Help me see the female bashing here.""

C- Of course there are differences between the sexes. The area that immense harm is being done is misattribution of cause. Girls play with dolls and boys with trucks because that's just how nature intended? _That_ is seriously wrong and shows a drastic lack of understanding of evolution. (Or can you point out the trucks in the fossil record to me?) No. _Nuture_, i.e. society determines what toys children play with in a much stronger fashion than nature.

AND more to the point, have you _actually_ read the article? Have you read the link that it posted? The link does not say what the article says it says! It's just someone lying and writing about it! Go and read it! Why is the Huffington Post printing clear and obvious lies?

Sep 8, 2012
You ever notice how much better you feel about going to work after that first cup of coffee? Yeah, me neither.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2012
A nap is a *great* idea.

Me, I have a bucket.

Global Warming: I can't do anything about it - into the bucket it goes.

War, Famine, Disease: Not even a dent. Into the bucket.

Death: Some day I'm going to die. What to do? Well, when the time comes... die. It's not a happy thought, so I'm not going to waste my life worrying about it.

There are a lot of challenges we face in life, but there's something to be said for knowing your limitations, and being comfortable in your own skin.

Plus - if you spend your whole life worrying about things you can't fix - you'll waste your big chance. There - now you have something else to worry about.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2012
Eat a Snickers.
Sep 7, 2012
while you are in your altered state of consciousness (angry/irrational), why would your goals/reactions/outlook be invalid?

I can feel when I enter that state, but it doesnt change how pressing and urgent my wants/needs are.

I guess I dont invalidate my feelings simply over mood change. I want a rational reason why I should feel/react differently, and set aside my immediate perspective. if its wrong, point it out, dont blame my mood.

imo, getting really angry over uncooperative furniture is my own perogative. If i want to take it seriously thats a completely acceptable choice. If i want to take a step back thats fine too.

Can you make a rational argument against being emotional over your closet space? we are emotional beings. attack a wrong or toxic emotion, or a false state of mind. simply being angry over something is not insidious enough to change it.

my perception of your logic equates to a new dogma for how we feel. certain emotions would be heresy. proving your emotions are wrong is one thing (ez to do since you are only direct experiencer of them), but then putting that on society to tell them why they shouldnt be upset for AUSTERITY MEASURES is quite another. if i wanna be mad, thats my perogative. im open to hearing why its wrong, and how another way is better, but thats it. i will make my own *moist robot decision*, not take your word.

i dont know if you cant help yourself or what, but your promotion of no free will appears to be zealotry. why do you care so dam much to prove creationists and theists wrong? its like a mental disease. i think you have some emotional investment in overcoming them. if you are right or wrong it makes little difference. what difference you might think it will make is to impact others beliefs. the essence of missionary work. cant you just be happy in your own atheism? the problem here is that atheism doesnt produce any emotion, good or bad. so why share the love? why do you care if some superstitious troglodyte who lives in a hut in south asia believes in science. THAT is the question you should be taking a stab at, as an atheist (preferably while laying on your therapists couch).
Sep 7, 2012
Movie idea: It's a few years in the future and we're taking a look at the dangerous lives of quantum computer programmers.

Since the quantum world can't be properly understood by the normal human mind, QCPs must enter their working environment through a series of brain chemical transformations, sort of like the preparation commercial divers go through to safely work at extreme depths for long periods of time.

So when the young, intrepid, !$%*!$%*!$%*! QCPs prepare for a "trip" to the quantum world, they first lie in a hospital bed with all kinds of electrodes on their heads and IVs in their arms. The IVs are connected to hundreds of bottles of psychochemicals that are self-administered. The nurses can only safely give the first dose, and curiously, they cannot tell in which order the subsequent psychochemicals are used.

The movie could take a lot of cues from the commercial diving world, like emergency decompression scenes, phantoms in the deep, hallucinations, etc. Meanwhile in the real world there could be a terrorist message that needs to be decrypted quickly in order to save an orphanage full of blond-haired girls playing with dolls.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2012
To throw out a gender stereo-type of my own: Men, generally, seem to be far more susceptible to low-blood-sugar induced moodiness than women. I can miss a meal and still cope with life. I live with a few in the other camp who can't. Possibly women, traditionally speaking, ended up in the food-preparation role in self defense...

I try to point out to the individuals involved that they see the world and all its annoyances very differently when they are rested, well-fed, etc. It is a huge point of maturity to recognize that it's best to look inward at what you can change about your own !$%*!$%*!$%*! and attitude before confronting the percieved source of your grievence.
Sep 7, 2012

???...'women inferior to men'? I saw nothing in that post to suggest such a thing. All I saw was evidence that regardless of society there is some predisposition in girls to play with dolls and in boys to play with trucks. And evidence that a woman's behavior can be influenced by the pills she's taking (is it really news to anyone that the pills we take can influence our behavior?) So are you saying kids who play with dolls are inferior to kids who play with trucks? That men aren't allowed to notice a difference between the sexes even when we aren't making value judgements on said difference? Help me see the female bashing here.
Sep 7, 2012
Hey, Scott, if you're so smart why didn't you just click through on the links? Or is looking at the original "research" beyond you?

Your link goes to:

Which for evidence for

"First, in 2009, Gerianne Alexander, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, and her colleagues found that 3- and 4-month-old boys' testosterone levels correlated with how much more time they spent looking at male-typical toys such as trucks and balls compared with female-typical toys such as dolls, as measured by an eye tracker. "

links to: http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/1955-the-cool-physics-of-7-toys.html not ONLY a clearly reputable source, but in which article it DOES NOT MENTION GENDER AT ALL. It doesn't talk about boys or girls or anything. I thought "This is clearly the wrong link. Then I realised that it's NOT a link to the research, it's a link to "male-typical toys such as trucks and balls".

I then read "a group of British researchers found that girls with a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, who experienced abnormally high levels of the male sex hormone androgen while in the womb, prefer to play with male-typical toys. " and I was like "Whoa."

The link to: http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2729-pink-girls-blue-boys.html AGAIN A REPUTABLE SOURCE, BY THE SAME AUTHOR. Directly contradicts the assertion made by the author, viz Pink is for girls and blue for boys.

At this point I got v. angry and emailed H Post asking them to take away this terribly researched sexist propaganda dressed up as Science.

Now I'm asking you to stop showing us how you've been conditioned to believe that there is "scientific evidence" that women are inferior to men and start doing some thinking for yourself.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2012
so I take it you (Scott) are supportive of prescription (and non?) drug use if it helps alter the flavor of noggin soup to a more productive and desirable state
Sep 7, 2012
Apparently, I'm not free to use the word circ
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2012
We were kids around the same time so you must have had a diff bunch of folk around you. Maybe some people assumed such but most people I knew assumed it was a combo of both nature and nurture. The two concepts have long battled for supremacy. I think it's fairly obvious both are heavily involved.

As for studies on female hormones, you may have missed the study that shows women have diff tastes in men through the month according to their hormonal cycles. WHen they are most fertile, they tend to like the high testosterone males. But yet most of them don't leave their husband over it. There is more to love and relationships than passing moods and fickle vague preferences.

I don't think it comes as much surprise that hormones influence mood. It's long been known that things like sunshine and exercise strongly improve mood. And things like low blood sugar do the reverse. Does this make for the whole entire personality though? I don't think so. Few things in life are that simple.
Sep 7, 2012
1. Sometimes Free Will / Freedom of Choice seems like nothing more than accounting for the possibility that someone else would do something different - I'd change lanes before I got to the jammed lane, someone else would brake and wait, another would brake and then try to change lanes ... I'd cook, someone else would order takeout, someone else would go out to eat.

Ur gonna do what Ur gonna do ... I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do ... someone else would find a 3rd option. We're free with respect to each other ... but NOT with respect to ourselves.

We are as free to respond to !$%*!$%*!$%*! as !$%*!$%*!$%*! permit, with the caveat that we cannot possibly know / account for / influence all the !$%*!$%*!$%*! in play.
Sep 7, 2012
It is certainly true that even if you don't give boys guns they will make pretend ones out of whatever is handy. But I assume boys in ancient times did not pretend bananas were guns - guns did not exist. So playing with guns cannot be hardwired into a boy. Even playing with weapons probably cannot be - we evolved pre-weapons. But there must be some hunting or violence wired into them.
Sep 6, 2012
Once a computer has been given a sufficiently complicated set of instructions, its behavior (the output) may become unpredictable based on the input. Even the programmer may not be able to predict the results. But we don't call this free will.

"Take a nap, drink some coffee, go for a walk, pet the dog, and try again." - this is the best advice I've heard in some time.
Sep 6, 2012
An excellent ingredient for the improvement of brain chemistry is a chemical called "pale ale"

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 6, 2012
If I resign to accept that I am a moist robot and have no freewill, then what am I supposed to do next and is my next decision? LOL

I do agree with Scott that it all depends on the state of chemicals that are floating around in your brain. That is why the Army spends so much time making soldiers exercise, eat right, and becoming fit fighting machines so they can mentally handle anything that is thrown at them. It completely changes your perspective/definition of what is a bad versus good day. Now that I have been out of the Army 20 years, and working in a corporate cubicle, I find my tolerance for the ridiculous is much lower despite my earlier training and perspective. On the plus side, at least no one is shooting at me in the cubicle...on the downside, I have no protective helmet or jacket and can't shoot back if someone did.
Sep 6, 2012
???...the blog page says this has received 23 comments. This page says its showing 1-17 out of 17 comments. Even if the blog page includes Scotts comments (I have evidence it does) that should only be 18. Where are the other 5 comments?
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog