Compassion and Gender Differences

A new brain imaging study shows that women may be hard-wired to respond to images more compassionately than men.  If compassion is a key component of moral goodness, then does this finding imply that women are more capable of goodness than men? What do you think?

Miller-McCune reports:

(W)omen’s brains process compassion differently than men’s, apparently due to the distinctive way our respective neural systems evolved.

“Our results suggest that compassion mechanisms evolved differentially in women, probably in connection with social skills including maternal preverbal communication and emotional responses to helpless offspring,” a research team led by Roberto Mercadillo of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Neurobiology writes in the journal Brain and Cognition.

This is one small study (only 12 women and 12 men were examined), so the results may be as much a fluke as reality.

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4 Responses to Compassion and Gender Differences

  1. I’m skeptical. I’ve done a lot of reading of late that points out significant flaws in most research that purports to show a difference between the male and female brain. There are only 24 subjects, and the Miller-McCune report doesn’t provide enough detail to show how they know the neural pathways were always there and not created by life experience.
    I’m pretty sure women in most societies learn to be more compassionate than men. I’d just have to see a whole lot more evidence before I believed it was hardwired.
    I wonder what Prof. Rebecca Jordan-Young would say about the study. Her recent book, Brainstorm, shreds (in polite, scientific terms) much of the research that asserts physical brain differences.

  2. dianesilver says:

    I’m as skeptical as you are, Nancy.

  3. Lucretia says:

    My sister (an RN) was just telling about a study done on Alzheimer’s patients. I appears that people with greater language skills in their late teens and early 20’s are less likely to get Alzheimer’s. They believe this is due to creating additional neural pathways by learning multiple languages and language skills. When the old neural pathways break down have a back up network they can switch to. So after all is said I will go with the life experience theory.

  4. Rob Ramcharan says:

    Clear the flying pig for takeoff! We agree! And on something substantive, too. Yay!

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