men women understandingWomen, beware: the next time you want to complain to your partner, as he does not understand you, take a deep breath and think this all the way through: maybe you are asking something beyond his power. A new study claims that men are not capable of interpreting the emotions of women – at least from their eyes.
Instead, men’s brain seems to be neurologically developed in such a way that they encode more easily the feelings of other men. This feature is believed to have important evolutionary usefulness, since it must have been a key factor for survival in the “wilder” era of the most powerful prevailing male.

Gender… difference

Although men do not exhibit any obvious difference anatomically, several studies have stated in recent years that there are morphological and functional differences between the brain of a man and a woman. Moreover, specialists of the University of Edinburgh conducted experiments which have shown that men are not able to interpret the feelings of others according to their facial expressions.

In a new study, researchers from German universities specify more thoroughly this “inability” of men by investigating a new norm that has been revealed by other studies – that men find it more difficult to understand the expression of women than the one of the representatives of the same sex.

In order to find out whether men are able to encode the emotions of both sexes from an eminently expressive ‘mean’ – their eyes, Boris Schiffer, a psychiatrist of LWL Hospital University of Bochum in Germany, and his colleagues, performed a functional MRI in 22 men whose age ranged from 21 to 52 years (average age of volunteers was 36 years).

How eyes… talk

Experts showed to volunteers some pictures depicting 36 pairs of eyes and asked them to describe the feelings they saw. Half of the photographs depicted women’s eyes and the other half showed men’s eyes presenting positive, negative and neutral emotions, where participants had to assess each look, describing it as “skeptical” or “terrified”.

The volunteers needed much more time and effort in order to interpret the emotions of eyes belonging to women – specifically, the researchers found that the degree of difficulty in ‘’reading’’ women’s eyes was twice than the one of “reading” men’s eyes. Moreover, brain activity depicted on brain scans was different in the two cases.

When the volunteers had to encode the expression of eyes belonged to men, the activity of amygdala (area associated with emotions, empathy and fear) was more intense, as well as in the parts of the brain associated with previous experience and emotions. The patterns of activity seemed to suggest that when volunteers had to evaluate “male” feelings, they were searching for resemblance in their own similar experiences and the feelings that they caused. However, when the evaluation was related to women, volunteers were trying to remember the last time that they had seen similar women’s expressions and what they meant.

Evolutionary adaptation?

This “less personal” approach of female expression means, according to scientists, not only that men find it more difficult to interpret, but also that empathy of men is less developed towards women than towards representatives of the same sex.

Experts point out that this capability of the brain has an entirely reasonable interpretation, since it must have been very useful in the past, when the rapid evaluation of opponents was an important “weapon” for the prevalence – if not for survival – of males.

“As men spent more time hunting and were involved in fights for territorial dominance, it must have been important to them to be able to anticipate and predict the intentions and actions of other male competitors” quoted from a study published in the journal «PLoS One».

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