What's a secret? Sometimes it's information hidden from you because another person doesn't want to share, like your daughter not telling you about her new boyfriend, or your son not wanting to admit his test score.
Sometimes a secret is concealed because facts aren't available, as in "the secrets of the universe." Space missions, telescopes and probes haven't unlocked all there is to know.
Then there are secrets that are surprises: You think you know, but you really don't. For example, many people believe if you don't dress warmly enough in wintery or rainy weather, you'll catch a cold. It doesn't matter how chilly or wet you become, though; you can't get sick unless a virus invades your body.
Since this is true (and seemingly important), why is it a still a secret? In some cases, people simply haven't been exposed to the information. In other instances, however, some true believers have heard of the cold virus but reject it. They believe they know how colds get caught, and that's it. No need to investigate any further.
One area that is vulnerable to these last two types of secrets is human behavior. Scientists study it faithfully, but the information isn't always easy to interpret, and there's still a lot to learn. Also, since people are, well, human, they feel knowledgeable about behavior -- even when they're not.
Let's take a look at human secrets within a specific topic: the female mind. We promise we won't knowingly keep anything from you.
10: Women's Intuition Is Not Innate -- It's Learned
You've heard about it: A mom senses that her child is hurt, or a wife just knows that her husband is cheating. It's been called women's intuition, and it's not as magical as it appears. In fact, intuition studies measuring both male and female abilities to read other people's moods indicate there is no significant difference. However, when women know their intuition is being assessed, they perform better, perhaps because they feel greater incentive to succeed. Men also improve with motivation; their inducement is monetary reward.
In one study, participants were asked to study photographs and determine which faces had "fake" smiles. Overall, women and men had similar results, but the highest scores went to men for interpreting the faces of women [sources: BBC News, Ickes]. Perhaps we'll start hearing about men's intuition?
9: Women's Brains Are Physically Different From Men's
Yes, scientists have discovered some structural differences between female and male brains, but the importance is still open to interpretation. If you look at a typical brain, you'll see two hemispheres that seem remarkably similar but have different functions:
- Left hemisphere: language, mathematics, logic, memory of oral and written data
- Right hemisphere: spatial abilities, musical, visualizing, body placement
That's a cursory summary of an overall picture that's much more complicated. For instance, when researchers examined brains, they noticed that, compared to the male brain, the female brain has less gray matter (the neurons that process information), but these gray matter neurons are packed more tightly together. Therefore, though men's brains are bigger, women's actually contain more neurons. The female brain also has comparatively more white matter, which facilitates communication among parts of the brain.
What do these differences mean? How should they be interpreted? Some scientists believe that the differences cause women's brains to process information more rapidly. Other researchers suggest that physical variations may not be inborn but are the result of disparate cultural and social experiences faced by male and female babies [source: Hotz].
8: Women Can Become Really Angry
It's true, women become just as furious as men, but you might not realize it because of how the anger is expressed. Women are more likely to hold a grudge and feel bitterness toward the offending party, even to the point of ending a friendship. This does not preclude women, however, from wanting to talk to the object of their anger.
In general, females are not usually physically aggressive when angry; it's not a societal norm. Women tend to demonstrate ire differently, often with negative actions like passive-aggressive behavior, dirty looks, scandalous talk and rejection.
When it comes to domestic abuse, however, females are just as physically aggressive as males. Women are as likely as men to attack a partner but are less likely to cause injury; females usually employ open palms or fingernails, but men tend to use fists [sources: Lilienfeld and Arkowitz, Dittmann].
So what instigates female anger? The most likely triggers are frustration at a lack of power, inequality and a lack of responsibility in others.
7: Women Have A Sense Of Humor … When Something's Funny
Women love to laugh -- just ask Tina Fey, the 2010 recipient of the Kennedy Center's presentation of the 13th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (previous winners include Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and George Carlin) [source: The Kennedy Center].
Women find humor in daily life; they enjoy anecdotes of everyday social situations. In group settings, women will use humor to build solidarity. To display and promote trust, women will personalize jokes, relating amusing stories about themselves. Teasing is generally relegated to women-only groups.
There's no difference between women and men in how much laughter they enjoy each day, and they both find some types of humor funny: cartoons, non-derogatory sexual jokes and self-effacing wit. A 2005 study, however, indicated that women's approach to humor is sometimes more skeptical.
During that study, females and males read and rated identical cartoons, and their brain activity was monitored to determine what cranial sections were being activated. Both sexes relied on language sections of the brain (women more so), and women also engaged the reward sector, specifically the part indicating an unexpected delight. Researchers theorized that, because women seemed to analyze the cartoons more, they didn't automatically expect them to be funny and were often pleasantly surprised. Since these brain section variations were not found in men, it seemed the cartoon humor had been anticipated. Researchers hope that further study into the different activation levels could lead to a greater understanding of -- ironically -- depression [sources: Stanford School of Medicine, Martin].
6: Women Are Twice As Likely As Men To Suffer From Depression
We're not talking about just a string of bad days. Women are no more likely to report simple unhappiness or sadness. We're talking a serious, numbing, hard-to-get-out-of-bed depressive existence.
Why is a woman more prone to depression? A variety of factors may contribute:
- A significant negative life event (she will often blame herself for the problem, whether or not it's justified)
- A crisis involving her children
- An adverse experience in childhood (like sexual abuse)
- The societal role of a homemaker (frustration or feeling a lack of support and respect)
- The societal role when working outside the home (overwhelmed by responsibilities)
- A tendency to dwell on problems (a man will purposely avoid rumination through activity)
This is not to suggest that women experience inordinate misfortune; they just process it differently, especially when the crises involve their roles in relationships [sources: Nazroo, Piccinelli and Wilkinson, Carducci].
5: Women Lie. No, They Don't. Yes, They Really Do
The nurturing nature of women might make lying seem less likely, but don't be fooled. They lie as often as men, sometimes more. In a study from 1996, participants of both sexes self-reported that they lied during 30 percent of their one-on-one social interactions.
The female college students usually lied to their conversational partners in order to be supportive. By adulthood, the lies were both supportive and self-serving. When talking to men, however, women primarily told lies to bolster themselves and gain admiration.
Women did not typically lie to console men or protect their feelings; that was done for other women. The liars insisted that their conversational partners would have been harmed or offended by the truth. This scenario did not often come into play, however. When two females conversed, lies were usually told about others [sources: Karlan and Zinman, DePaulo et al.].
4: Women Are Likely To Have Physical Responses To Stress
Gotta get the assignment done for work, and the kids have soccer practice. We have company coming for the weekend, so the house really needs to be cleaned. The car has that knocking sound in it again, too. ARGHHH!
Stress is a feeling of being overwhelmed, and it can be accompanied by serious physical symptoms. For women, those signs can include elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased levels of specific hormones.
Severe stress is often a woman's reaction to (or fear of) being judged or losing self-esteem. You've probably heard of people reacting to stressful situations with a "fight-or-flight" response: Stay and slug it out or run away. It turns out that's not how women usually react. Fighting is a last defensive resort, and flight is evolutionarily non-adaptive, because it places offspring in jeopardy.
In a study published in 2000, researchers noticed that women have a different reaction to stress: "tend and befriend." This response includes taking care of others and turning to friends for support. The scientists discovered that when women are under stress, oxytocin is released, and this hormone encourages the "tend and befriend" behavior [sources: Azar, ScienceDaily].
3: Women Have Sleep Issues
Zzzzzzzzzzzz … Was that one of the kids? Zzzzzzzzzz … He's snoring again. Zzzzzzzzz … Oh, that garlic for dinner didn't agree with me; I've got such indigestion.
A 1998 study indicated that women ages 30 to 60 sleep, on average, six hours and 41 minutes a night, which is less than they require. What are women doing instead of sleeping? Usually nothing fun. Women are light sleepers and wake easily, disturbed by sounds or thoughts. They are often worried about their children, work and home responsibilities, or their physical well-being.
Another problem: Women are more likely than men to have insomnia. This can become common, occurring several times a week. It often leads to daytime drowsiness, making it difficult to accomplish tasks.
Women are also more likely than men to experience pain at night, including headaches, arthritis aches and heartburn. In a National Sleep Foundation survey in 2000, one-quarter of the women indicated that pain regularly disturbed their sleep [source: National Sleep Foundation].
Treatment for sleep deprivation varies widely, depending on the cause, the frequency and underlying health issues. Some remedies include:
- Relaxation programs
- Reduced caffeine and alcohol consumption
- A regular sleep routine
2: Women Are Natural Leaders
What do Sara Lee, Yahoo, Xerox, PepsiCo and Archer Daniels Midland all have in common? In 2010, they represented five of the 15 Fortune 500 companies with women CEOs [source: CNN]. This is up from 2005, when there were only eight female CEOs on the list [source: Inskeep].
Even with the increase, these proportions may seem deficient when considering women's leadership skills -- and people's perceptions of those skills. A 2008 study from the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of those interviewed believed that women and men are equally skilled as leaders. In five out of eight leadership traits, including intelligence and honesty, women were rated more highly. Men were afforded superior ranking only on decisiveness [source: Goodman].
As leaders, women have the ability to look at the big picture; they can see developing trends and recognize connections among old and new data. These skills help generate a variety of creative options that assist in formulating future plans.
Women also have interpersonal expertise that encourages involvement and cooperation. They are good at reading body language and picking up on other people's cues. Previously, it might have been your mom who knew you were being secretive and holding information back; now it could be your boss [source: Fisher].
1: Women Are Talented At Mathematics
Who does better on standardized mathematics tests, boys or girls? Who's more likely to take calculus in high school? If you think the answer is "boys," you might be in the majority -- and you'd be wrong.
Common wisdom has long held that males are more mathematically talented than females. Recent studies indicate, however, that the differences are due to cultural, not biological, influences. In countries where mathematical competence is seen as an issue of effort and not sex, females and males achieve equally.
When girls receive appropriate educational opportunities and observe women successfully employed in mathematical fields, they don't lag behind boys in math competency. In a 2009 study in the United States, comparisons on standardized achievement tests indicated no sex difference in math scores. High school calculus classes have equal numbers of male and female students. And, although more American boys than girls are considered mathematically gifted, the difference is shrinking. In countries where the societies support a high level of gender equality, male and female mathematics results are equivalent [source: ScienceDaily].
Certainly there are distinctions between females and males. Would we really want all of us to be the same? But the causes of those variations are complex, often much different than common wisdom suggests. For more articles on women, men and the human mind, check out the links on the next page.
Lots More Information
- 10 Secrets of the Male Mind
- 10 Ways Men and Women Communicate Differently
- 5 Signals Humans Use to Perceive Emotions
- Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory
- 10 Ways to Improve Your Senses
- 10 Most Diagnosed Mental Disorders
More Great Links
- Azar, Beth. "A new stress paradigm for women." Monitor on Psychology. July/August 2000. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug00/stress.aspx
- BBC News. "Female intuition 'questionable.'" April 12, 2005. (Sept. 28, 2010) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4436021.stm
- Bombardieri, Marcella and Sacchetti, Maria. "Summers to step down, ending tumult at Harvard." The Boston Globe. Feb. 22, 2006. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2006/02/22/summers_to_step_down_ending_tumult_at_harvard/
- Carducci, Bernardo J. "The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications." Wiley-Blackwell. 2009. http://books.google.com/books?id=1gJPXv5wQbIC&dq=gender+romance+differences&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- CNN. "Women CEOs." CNN Money.com. 2010. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2010/womenceos/
- DePaulo, Bella M. et al. "Lying in Everyday Life." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 70, No. 5. 1996. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://smg.media.mit.edu/library/DePauloEtAl.LyingEverydayLife.pdf
- Dittmann, Melissa. "Anger across the gender divide." Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 34, No. 3. March 2003. (Sept. 29, 2010) http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar03/angeracross.aspx
- Eliot, Lise. "Girl Brain, Boy Brain?" Scientific American. Sept. 8, 2009. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=girl-brain-boy-brain
- Fisher, Helen E. "Enlightened Power." The Natural Leadership Talents of Women. Jossey Bass. 2005. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.helenfisher.com/downloads/articles/07leadership.pdf
- Goodman, Michelle. "Who Make Better Bosses -- Men or Women?" ABC News/Money. Sept. 4, 2008. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://abcnews.go.com/Business/CareerManagement/story?id=5718608&page=1
- Hemel, Daniel. "Summers' Comments on Women and Science Draw Ire." The Harvard Crimson. Jan. 14, 2005. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2005/1/14/summers-comments-on-women-and-science/
- Hotz, Robert Lee. "Deep, Dark Secrets of His and Her Brains." Los Angeles Times. June 16, 2005. (Sept. 28, 2010) http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-brainsex16jun16,0,5806592,full.story
- Ickes, William. "Where Is Women's Intuition?" Psychology Today. Jan. 28, 2009. (Sept. 28, 2010) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/everyday-mind-reading/200901/where-is-womens-intuition
- Inskeep, Steve. "Women CEOs Still Rare Among Fortune 500." NPR. Feb. 23, 2005. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4509605
- Karlan, Dean and Zinman, Jonathan. "Lying about Borrowing." Yale University. November 2007. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://karlan.yale.edu/p/LyingaboutBorrowing.pdf
- The Kennedy Center. "The 14th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor." (Sept. 30, 2010) http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/specialevents/marktwain/
- Kimura, Doreen. "Sex Hormones Influence Human Cognitive Pattern." Neuroendocrinology Letters. Vol. 23. December 2002. (Sept. 30, 2010) http://www.sfu.ca/~dkimura/Publications/Kimura%20%282002%29.%20Sex%20hormones%20influence%20human%20cognitive%20pattern.pdf
- Kritz, Francesca Lunzer. "Not Feeling Each Other's Pain." The Washington Post. Dec. 19, 2006. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/15/AR2006121501879.html
- Leopold, Wendy. "Gender Differences in Language Appear Biological." Northwestern University. March 11, 2008. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2008/03/burmangender.html
- Lilienfeld, Scott O. and Arkowitz, Hal. "Are Men the More Belligerent Sex?" Scientific American. April 5, 2010. (Sept. 29, 2010) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-men-the-more-belligerent-sex
- Martin, Rod A. "The Psychology of Humor." Academic Press. 2007. (Sept. 29, 2010) http://books.google.com/books?id=ieAcp2Z_zkIC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- National Sleep Foundation. "Women and Sleep." (Oct. 1, 2010) http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/women-and-sleep
- Nauert, Rick. "Women Have More Disturbed Sleep." PsychCentral. Aug. 11, 2009. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/08/11/women-have-more-disturbed-sleep/7670.html
- Nazroo, James Y. "Exploring Gender Differences in Depression." Psychiatric Times. March 1, 2001. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/depression/content/article/10168/1158326
- The New York Times. "The New Team." (Oct. 4, 2010) http://projects.nytimes.com/44th_president/new_team/show/lawrence-summers
- Piccinelli, Marco and Wilkinson, Greg. "Gender differences in depression." The British Journal of Psychiatry. Vol. 177. 2000. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/177/6/486
- ScienceDaily. "Culture, Not Biology, Underpins Math Gender Gap." June 2, 2009. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090601182655.htm
- ScienceDaily. "Few Gender Differences in Math Abilities, Worldwide Study Finds." Jan. 6, 2010. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100105112303.htm
- ScienceDaily. "Men and Women Respond Differently to Stress." March 23, 2010. (Oct. 1, 2010) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100323121755.htm
- Stanford School of Medicine. "Gender Differences Are a Laughing Matter, Stanford Brain Study Shows." Nov. 7, 2005. (Sept. 29, 2010) http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2005/november/humor.html