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The Essential Difference (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 4 Mar 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141011017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141011011
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 80,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor at Cambridge University in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, and the co-director of the Autism Research Centre there. He has carried out research into both autism and sex differences, over a twenty-year career. He is the author of MINDBLINDNESS.

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The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

155 of 158 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 1 May 2004
Format: Paperback
After a lengthy and unwarranted disclaimer that his work isn't "sexist" [whatever that is], Baron-Cohen surveys the foundations of male and female minds. With a long clinical and teaching career, supported by an immense list of studies, he concludes that, in general, there are indeed "essential differences" in cognitive makeup between human genders. While there is a spectrum of characteristics, certain general frameworks exist attributable to men and women. For ease of analysis, he suggests that women are more empathic ["E" personalities] while men are more systematic ["S" personalities]. Each, he insists, has their role, with most people placed well within a median between extremes. The trends, however, are clear.
In a chatty style he likely uses speaking with patients, Baron-Cohen shows that women's empathic tendencies give them the power to quickly assess others' emotional states. Women more readily identify feelings in others, respond appropriately when sympathy is required and "reach out" in dealing with people. He stresses that this "intuitive sense" among women is almost universal and is rightfully well-regarded by all cultures. Men, on the other hand, operate under the need to understand "systems", organized conditions, mechanics, technology and are thus driven to know "how things work". This urge leads them away from the intimacy women have with others and, in the more extreme cases, are likely to become "loners". The most outstanding examples are those suffering from autism which is overwhelmingly a male condition.
Baron-Cohen has spent years studying autism, offering a range of examples. It may appear amusing that a five-year-old boy may be capable of memorizing dozens of car registrations and explain which car belongs to which house, but there are other factors to consider.
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Format: Paperback
I have always been interested in the workings of the brain and now, having had autism diagnosed in the family, I have been reading as many books on autism spectrum disorders as I can get my hands on. This book was recommended to me by a speech therapist friend and, having read it, I can understand why. A first class book that should be read by anyone with an interest in Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum disorders or indeed anyone who wants to understand why men and women differ. After reading it, I understood - what more can anyone say.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Durston TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 31 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book that I felt I should read for a long time and had to work myself up into reading. I shouldn't have been worried, it's actually really easy to read.

The Essential Difference, explores the possible differences between the male (systemising) brain and the female (empathising) brain, and also whether autism can be explained by being considered the extreme form of male brain. It is worth noting Baron-Cohen says that women can have male brains and men can have female brains.

The key to my enjoyment of this book was Baron-Cohen's tone and attitude, he is incredibly respectful of any differences and explains how these definitions shouldn't be used to limit people.

There are also four tests in the back of the book, so you can see what type of brain you have! I'm keeping mine a secret!

Highly recommended.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 May 2003
Format: Paperback
The book's theory states,
"The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems."
and this is backed up with evidence from many sources.
The two variable characteristics, systemizing and empathizing, are examined and the case is made that autism represents the extreme male brain.
What impresses me greatly about this book is that Simom Baron-Cohen shows time and again that average statistics cannot be used to pre-categorize individuals. An individual's actual scores on systemizing and empathizing cannot be predicted from their gender. He even provides tests in the Apendices for generating one's own description on these characteristics. They're very interesting.
This is a book about people and about the uniqueness of individuals. There are lots of stories and a strong appreciation of the value of differences. This is an engaging read, easy to understand and useful. The extensive references and bibliography are there to follow up, but they deliberately do not intrude on the text. My only quibble is that there's very little on the extreme female brain. Perhaps it'll get a book to itself!
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By R. Bradford on 21 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was expecting the science underlying the empathy-systematising model of gender differences - the experiments and the data. There was indeed some allusion to this but mostly I found the book to be theorising and surmise. Hence my disappointment. Is it my imagination or was the book really suffused with a fear of upsetting the feminists (by which I mean those people who cling to the view that children enter the world tabula rasa, just awaiting their gender to be imprinted upon them by their upbringing)? The author did seem to find it impossible to refer to any of his female researchers without stating how wonderful and brilliant they were. Such personal comments are just not done in scientific literature, and they came over as crawling. I find it curious that systematising has a neutral flavour whereas empathy is presented as entirely positive. I wonder if this is quite right. However, I have no doubt that the basic empathy-systematising model is a sound guide, if not the whole truth, it's just that I had hoped for more solid empirical evidence. (I know, how very systematising of me). At the trivial level it did annoy me that he persisted in using "disinterested" when he meant "uninterested" (sorry, my pernickety male brain again). The final paragraph is bang on right though. Overall, better to have read it than not read it.
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