Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why Men Need to Show Emotion

Leave it to Men's Health to try selling men on a healthy human behavior by suggesting it will get us more sex.

The article is pretty long and in-depth for Men's Health, yet as good as that it is, it also perpetuates some stereotypes about men not being as emotionally literate as women, nor as articulate. This is simply a matter of socialization.

Yes, there are brain differences in men and women. But are they inborn, or are they created through the very different ways boys and girls are raised? Research shows that our brains are wired through the attachment experience, what Dan Siegel calls interpersonal neurobiology.

Behaviors and expressions that are rewarded in up-bringing are hard-wired, those networks become more solidified and permanent. Those that are not "rewarded" do not get hard-wired and fade away. I would argue that that there is very littler difference in the brains of infants in terms of potential for emotional intelligence at birth - it's what happens AFTER we are born that creates the brain differences.

In the article, they talk to Simon Baron-Cohen (an autism specialist), who argues that there are in-born differences. I have no doubt this is true, but I suspect that they are less extreme than we are often led to believe.

Anyway, here is the beginning of the article - follow the link at the end of this excerpt to read the whole article.

Men and Their Emotions
Why Men Need to Show Emotion

It's an easy path to love, happiness -- and sex

With a sigh of relief, you pull into your driveway at the end of another 12-hour day. You're ready to unwind. Already, your blood pressure is falling. But inside your house, your personal life is waiting. Maybe you have a girlfriend or wife who craves your companionship, and children who demand your attention. When you walk through that door, you may be thinking in terms of haven and escape. But in these next few hours, you're really undergoing a transition. You're going to make the switch from work to love, from ambition to emotion, from power to intimacy.

This transition is a big job -- and the ramifications are bigger than ever. So you need to handle it well.

What if you don't? Hey, no harm done. You'll simply join the legions of the angry and depressed, with half your money gone to your ex-wife, your kids mad at you, your few friends slowly drifting away, and a vague sense of shame that keeps you from making social connections. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything.

Okay? Now you can loosen your tie. But don't open the car door just yet. I want to talk to you for a while longer.

I'm not that crazy about the word "intimacy." I bet you're not, either. It's a department-store word. (Third floor: Intimate Apparel.) And, come to think of it, I'm never happy to hear the word "emotion." It means that pretty soon I'll be hearing the word "feelings," as in I've hurt her feelings, or I don't seem to have any feelings, unless team X comes from behind to beat team Y. When men hear about "emotion," we're usually about to be scolded.

I'm being more than a little defensive, but you and I both know that our apparent difficulty with the whole feelings thing bothers women. And, further, they grow testy over the fact that it bothers them more than it bothers us. But how's this for an idea? Men should stop being defined by what we lack. Instead, let's take a clear-eyed look at emotions, the unique ways in which we experience them, and their role in who we are today. Wouldn't it be cool if we understood that, and why we are the way we are? Wouldn't it be cool if we could finally explain ourselves to women? If only so they'd stop asking us?

Fortunately for all of us, some serious scientific and psychological discoveries of the past decade can help us do just that. So let's push beyond the gauzy metaphor of Mars and Venus. Yes, men and women are different, but it's no longer enough to categorize men by the words they fail to say.

And let's concede one point straight off: Men are not as emotionally articulate as women are. It's not out of spite; we don't stubbornly refuse to spend hours talking about feelings. We just can't do it. That is, the inner architecture of our brains just can't do it.

New technology, such as functional magnetic-resonance imaging (better known by its abbreviation, fMRI), allows neuroscientists to virtually open up the skull and see what's happening inside. This means you can show people photos of mutilated bodies, for example, and watch their brains react.

It may sound cruel, but that's exactly what a team of Stanford scientists did. They showed brutal images to 12 men and 12 women. In the women, nine different areas of the brain showed higher activity, both when viewing the pictures and when recalling them 3 weeks later. Nine different areas! In the men, only two areas lit up. The comparison says it all.

Thanks to neuroscience, we now know that the amygdala, a small, almond-shaped region deep in the brain, plays a key role in both emotional reactions and emotional memories. And, wouldn't you know it, the female amygdala is far more efficient. That's why women can recall more emotional memories more quickly (have you noticed?), and their memories are richer and more intense. (No wonder she still remembers that hurtful remark you made last Christmas.)

The amygdala may also play a role in women's greater tendency to engage in what scientists call ruminative thinking, the repetitive focus on negative feelings and events. (You've noticed that, as well.) Psychologists now know that a lot of rumination actually confuses people about how they really feel -- but you won't want to tell her that when she's ruminating.

There are other key brain differences. The female brain has a better connection between its left hemisphere, which is involved in speech, and its right hemisphere, which is involved in emotion. (That connective tissue is called the corpus callosum, and females have more of it than we do, in relation to total brain size.) When most women talk, both sides of their brains are activated; men use only their left hemispheres for speech. It's emerging details like this that are leading scientists to theorize that, yes indeed, women seem to have a greater built-in facility for talking about their feelings.

By simply observing little kids' behavior, we get the picture that our differences are innate. A whole slew of psychological studies have gathered data on the habits of preschoolers, and here's a sampling: By age 1, girls make more eye contact than boys do. A couple of years later, the paintings of young girls will almost always contain one or two people; little boys' renderings commonly depict rocket ships, bicycles, and cars. At play, boys were 50 times more competitive over toy sharing, while girls were 20 times more likely to take turns.

Could a horribly sexist culture be to blame for those differences? No -- at least not entirely, says Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Cambridge University. In multiple studies, he has looked at the amount of testosterone babies are exposed to in the womb, and then looked at them at 12 months, 18 months, 2 years, and 4 years of age.

The results have been startling. The higher the baby's level of fetal testosterone, regardless of gender, the less eye contact the child makes at age 1, and the smaller his or her vocabulary is at 18 months. By age 4, those with the highest fetal-testosterone levels score the lowest on a test of social skills and the highest on a test showing deep interest in a narrow range of topics.

Testosterone in the womb could be the big key to our interests and behavior as adults. "More specifically," Baron-Cohen writes in his latest book, The Essential Difference, "the more you have of this special substance, the more your brain is tuned into systems and the less your brain is tuned into emotional relationships."

There's the taproot of the male condition.

Baron-Cohen has marshaled all this evidence into a grand theory, which he lays out in his book. There are basically two kinds of brains -- the empathizing brain and the systemizing brain. If you have an empathizing brain, you're exquisitely good at understanding how someone else might feel, and furthermore you want to alleviate their distress. You're good at identifying people's inner emotions simply by looking at their facial expressions. (Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have catalogued 412 discrete emotions. Oy.) You're good at relationships, and you maintain those healthy relationships by sharing feelings. And you have a flair for language, so you can express all 412 of those emotions.

If you have a systemizing brain, says Baron-Cohen, you're driven to understand systems -- anything from plumbing fixtures to the NBA rule book, from patent law to the bond market. Systemizers specialize in events with predictable consequences, so that when you act, you can be pretty darn certain of the result. Such systems can take a long time to learn, but if you have a systemizing brain, that doesn't bother you -- you can spend endless hours observing all the details, to the exclusion of everything (and, oops, everybody) else in your life. You're more interested in organizing principles than in the social world. You're good with mechanical things, not people. You cultivate an expertise. And you love sports, because it's a combination of four systems: an organizing system (E-A-G-L-E-S!), a system of rules ("He was nowhere near the end zone!"), a motoric system (" . . . a 43-yard touchdown pass . . . "), and a statistical system (" . . . that keeps their wild-card hopes alive if Green Bay loses, the Falcons win, and the Giants get lost on the way to the Meadowlands!").

In the past, systemizers have been good at tool making, hunting, and trading. Now they're good at engineering, inventing, coaching, computer programming, and leading a corporation along a "critical path" toward "key metrics." In their daily lives, these people tend to be independent, driven, successful individuals who do well in business because of their expertise and their ability to take decisive action. They do well socially not because of their power to empathize, but because they've reduced the pecking order to a system of rules and know how to manipulate their way through it. If they're men, as they often are, they're very attractive to women -- the very same women who, after a few years, wonder why these guys aren't better empathizers.

Sound like anyone you know?
Read the rest of this article.

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