8 No. 1
Equity in the Hard Sciences at Emory
in the hard science faculty ranks at Emory
sciences faculty by gender at other institutions
happening along the way? Why aren't women choosing academia proportionately,
and why aren't women staying in academia?"
think the 'nature versus nurture' question is not meaningful, because
it treats them as independent factors, whereas in fact everything
is nature and nurture."
Crisis in the Humanities
So what else is new?
Away the Dust of Everyday Life
and the Emory Experience
Diary and the Map
and Foucault on making sense of history
death, money and chemistry in the Carlos Museum
Academic Exchange: Describe some of your research
into differences between males and females.
Kim Wallen: My theoretical viewpoint is that
sex difference is a product of some underlying predisposition that
gets shaped by experience. I think the “nature versus nurture”
question is not meaningful, because it treats them as independent
factors, whereas in fact everything is nature and nurture. For example,
there’s a predisposition for human males to be taller, but
if I take a male who is likely to be six feet tall and I restrict
his diet for the first three years of life, he might wind up much
It’s also interesting that early studies suggested that
young female monkeys were more submissive than males. But that difference
is very much a product of social environment. When young males and
females were allowed to interact for about 30 minutes each day without
any adults around, males were more aggressive and females were more
submissive. But in the presence of adults, you didn’t see
that sex difference at all. That means there may be a bias for males
to be more aggressive, but it doesn’t typically show up in
real-world settings, only in a constrained, artificial setting.
AE: Do the patterns of behavior in monkeys also
show up in humans?
KW: Yes. In one study we let young monkeys
interact with different types of toys, like trucks, cars, strollers,
and stuffed animals. Males preferred wheeled toys and rarely plush
toys. Females interacted with both types of toys. That’s an
example where socialization doesn’t have any influence, just
as I think the human toy preferences probably have little to do
with true socialization. Humans also show a strong sex difference
in toy preference. Boys tend to like things that they can manipulate
and do things to. Girls like things they can interact with. It has
nothing to do with the toys per se, but the preferred activities.
Toys become sexually differentiated because they reflect this underlying
bias that males and females have for certain kinds of activities.
AE: Can you give an example of how socialization
influences performance by men and women?
KW: When women who are very skilled in math
take a math test and are told that the test was gender neutral,
they perform well. But if you tell them that historically, men tend
to outperform women, then the women performed poorly. The argument
is that because women grew up in an environment where they’re
attributed to have poorer math skills, they carry an internal stereotype
of poor math ability. What’s strange is, according to the
research, all one apparently has to do is tell a woman who has a
lifetime of socialization of being poor in math that a math test
is gender neutral, and all effects of that socialization go away.
AE: How do you approach a field that is so controversial?
KW: I think it’s important to know ways
in which men and women differ and where differences come from. If
there is a biological factor, as opposed to an educational bias,
that causes males to do poorly on verbal tasks I’d like to
know that. Just as important are the consequences of those differences
and what you do with the information.
There was an experiment in which women and men were oriented to
a flagpole outside, then walked into a building and led through
twists and turns, then asked to draw where they were in relation
to the flagpole. Everyone made some mistakes, but the error was
much smaller for males. Even when maps were provided, males had
significantly fewer errors. So maybe there’s some core internal
navigation mechanism that is truly different between the sexes that
allows men to keep their spatial orientation better. The question
is how we react to those differences. We could create a training
program that teaches women how to improve their orientation skills.
AE: Do you notice any differences between the way
your male and female graduate students approach their work?
KW: One thing I’ve noticed is that all of
my students, male or female, at some level are not very realistic
about their abilities and think they’re not as bright as they
really are. But one difference is that the women typically are more
likely to voice that concern and anxiety, and they’re more
likely to think that the men don’t feel the same way. To some
extent, females tend to worry more and to be hyper-realistic about
their skills and competencies. Guys often don’t seem to be
so concerned or aware of where they fit in the competency scheme.
That may reflect another underlying bias in the way males and females
approach their lives.