Why Are Women So Good at Reading Minds?

NDTV Food Desk  |  Updated: June 09, 2017 15:10 IST

Why Are Women So Good at Reading Minds?
Twenty years ago, scientists conducted a study that was called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. This was a research based on empathetic accuracy (which refers to how well one person can infer the thoughts and feelings of another person). The expectation was that women would be able to read the thoughts and feelings of others more accurately than their male counterpart. This expectation evolved out of a cultural stereotype of "women's intuition." The initial few studies, however, were not very successful at providing the expected substantial gender difference. A change in the methods and study resulted in new conclusions.

While women are said to genetically score higher on "mind reading" and have an ability to better intuit, this ability also has a lot to do with socialization. Young girls and women, since early childhood are rewarded more than men for using these skills which probably results in their reinforcement and honing.

However, recently, scientists at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, including one of India origin, have built upon the study Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which was first performed 20 years ago and have concluded that women have a 'mind reading' gene mutation that gives them the ability to infer another persons' thoughts and emotions simply by looking at their eyes alone. This new study, published in the Molecular Psychiatry Journal, analyzed cognitive empathy in 89,000 people across the world.


Women have a 'mind reading' gene mutation that gives them the ability to infer thoughts

Additionally, previous studies had found that people with anorexia and autism tend to score lower on this test. The team however found that the genes that contribute to higher scores on the Eyes Test also tend to increase the risk for anorexia, but not autism since autism involves social as well as non social traits and this test only measures a social trait.

According to Varun Warrier, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge "This is an important step forward for the field of social neuroscience and adds one more piece to the puzzle of what may cause variation in cognitive empathy."

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"We are excited by this new discovery, and are now testing if the results replicate, and exploring precisely what these genetic variants do in the brain, to give rise to individual differences in cognitive empathy," explained Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor at the University of Cambridge.

The results thus found have confirmed that women on average do score better on this test than men because of genetic variants on chromosome 3 in women are linked to their ability to read the mind in the eyes: known as cognitive empathy. This study is considered to be the largest study ever of this test of cognitive therapy in the world and is also considered to be the first study which attempts to relate performance on this test with genetic variation. However, though this study draws a correlation between empathy and human genetics, other important social factors such as postnatal experience and upbringing are also important.

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