Men leap, women look when deciding

U. WARWICK (UK) — When making judgements, men tend to see things in black and white, while women see them in shades of gray.

A new study asked 113 people whether each of 50 objects fitted partially, fully, or not at all into certain categories. The 50 objects were ones likely to stimulate debate or disagreement. For example, “Is a tomato a fruit?” and “Is paint a tool?”

Men were more likely to make absolute category judgements (e.g., a tomato is either a fruit or not), and women made less certain category judgements (e.g., a tomato can “sort of” belong in the fruit category).

The women surveyed tended to be much more nuanced in their responses and were 23 percent more likely to assign an object to the “partial” category.

Details of the study are published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

While it has been a popular belief that such a male/female split exists, as far as the researchers are aware, this is the first time such a sex difference in categorization has been shown experimentally.

“Of course, simply because we have found a significant sex difference in how men and women categorize does not mean that one method is intrinsically better than the other,” says Zachary Estes, psychologist at the University of Warwick.

“For instance, male doctors may be more likely to quickly and confidently diagnose a set of symptoms as a disease. Although this brings great advantages in treating diseases early, it obviously has massive disadvantages if the diagnosis is actually wrong. In many cases, a more open approach to categorizing or diagnosing would be more effective.”

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