The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism

The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism

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by Simon Baron-Cohen
     
 

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We all know the opposite sex can be a baffling, even infuriating, species. Why do most men use the phone to exchange information rather than have a chat? Why do women love talking about relationships and feelings with their girlfriends while men seem drawn to computer games, new gadgets, or the latest sports scores? Does it really all just come down to our

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Overview

We all know the opposite sex can be a baffling, even infuriating, species. Why do most men use the phone to exchange information rather than have a chat? Why do women love talking about relationships and feelings with their girlfriends while men seem drawn to computer games, new gadgets, or the latest sports scores? Does it really all just come down to our upbringing? In The Essential Difference, leading psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen confirms what most of us had suspected all along: that male and female brains are different. This groundbreaking and controversial study reveals the scientific evidence (present even in one-day-old babies) that proves that female-type brains are better at empathizing and communicating, while male brains are stronger at understanding and building systems-not just computers and machinery, but abstract systems such as politics and music. Most revolutionary of all, The Essential Difference also puts forward the compelling new theory that autism (and its close relative, Asperger's Syndrome) is actually an example of the extreme male brain. His theory can explain why those who live with this condition are brilliant at analyzing the most complex systems yet cannot relate to the emotional lives of those with whom they live. Understanding our essential difference, Baron-Cohen concludes, may help us not only make sense of our partners' foibles, but also solve one of the most mysterious scientific riddles of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
He has come up with a fascinating crazy-quilt of studies to prove our sexual differences...I thank Simon Baron-Cohen more than I can say for having written this book. It has explained a good part of my own life to me; it's made men achingly human to me.—Carolyn See
Publishers Weekly
Should the title fail to express Baron-Cohen's certainty about gender differences, the Cambridge Univ. professor of psychology and psychiatry lays out his controversial thesis on page one: "The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems." Defending this bold view is a tough but engaging battle, one that's alleviated by Baron-Cohen's disclaimer that his conclusions refer to statistical majorities rather than "all men" and "all women," but exacerbated by his habit of simultaneously skirting and employing gender stereotypes. His copious evidence ranges from the anecdotal to the anthropological, and from the neurological to the case study (the author and his research team conducted many of these studies). Not all his support fully convinces: e.g., the music-classifying habits of novelist Nick Hornby's High Fidelity protagonist isn't confirmation of the male brain's predisposition to systems-building. After acknowledging cultural and social influences on gender differences, Baron-Cohen "surfs the brain" (and offers evidence from a number of studies, both human and animal) to establish a biological link. But if male rats navigate their way through mazes more easily than female rats, does that mean men are better at directions than women? His speculations on how binary brain types have evolved over the eons, which have the male brain co-opting traits like power and leadership, leaving the female brain with gossip and motherhood, may ruffle a few feathers. Perhaps the most refreshing section of this cerebral volume is devoted to what he calls "extreme" examples of the male brain-autism and its cousin, Asperger's syndrome. The author of previous autism books, including Mindblindness, Baron-Cohen offers curious lay readers a provocative discussion of male-female differences. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this engaging collection of letters, Pipher (Reviving Ophelia; Another Country) writes about her 30 years as a psychotherapist and what she has learned about people. Far more than just career advice for young therapists, however, she offers insights that could be subtitled Life 101 for Laypeople. The correspondence, based on the seasons, reflects Pipher's outlook on life (it's hard), childhood (never idyllic), family relationships (vital), and healing (often best through play, music, and travel). As a therapist, she agonizes over clients she can't help and injects plain thinking into complex problems. Families are not dysfunctional, she insists; parents may be quirky or incompetent, but clients should hang on to family relationships. Pipher concludes that what is dysfunctional is our society, through the pressures of time, expectations, suburban lifestyles, and jobs. "We therapists are small potatoes," she writes, though readers will feel richer and more competent for having read the wisdom she shares. For all collections.-Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465005567
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
08/16/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
684,040
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.76(d)

Meet the Author

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Cambridge University and co-director of its Autism Research Centre. He has carried out research into both autism and sex differences over a twenty-year career. He is the author of Autism: The Facts and Mindblindness.

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