Study: The 20th Century Was Good For Women’s Brains

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Women gain intelligence faster than men as society improves, potentially because of a need to learn more quickly in order to combat discrimination, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers behind the study argue that in fighting extra hard to succeed in a world traditionally dominated by men, women have had to develop the ability to learn more quickly. Because women spent centuries receiving less cognitive nurturing than men, they may simply be catching up as the world becomes a more equal place. I guess this is a compliment …?

The study took a peek at the brains of 31,000 European participants born in the mid-1900s who came from varying life circumstances.  The team gauged participants’ ability to recall specific moments or to quickly name objects within certain categories and compared that to the quality of their lives at age 25. In doing so, they found that the better the quality of life was  — which was determined by things like nutrition, healthcare, and sanitation  — the better cognitive function both genders would have. Makes sense, right? However, in most of these areas, women’s cognitive abilities for the most part improved more than men’s when social conditions improved. In other words, what was good for the gander was actually better for the goose overall. One possible theory cited by The Verge is that due to sexism, women likely started from less prosperous social conditions and so they had more to gain from progressive social changes.

Naturally, such findings can be controversial, as the human brain is such a mysterious thing.  Agneta Herlitz, a co-author, of the study, told The Verge, “For some reason, it’s hard to accept that there may be differences in men and women.” The goal of the research team is to highlight how important equality is, not to pit women against men. Hey, any study that encourages a higher quality of life for everyone is just fine with us.

[The Verge]
[Cosmopolitan]
[PNAS]

[Image of woman's brain via Shutterstock]

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