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The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain (Allen Lane Science) Paperback – 24 Apr 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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This is no Mars/Venus whimsy, but the conclusion fron twenty years of experiment (Evening Standard)

This is a fascinating, thought-provoking book. Women will want to talk about it. Men will sit silent and brood over its details (Observer)

Compelling... the book's final and probably most controversial argument is a treat for those who simply enjoy a good idea (Guardian)

A thought-provoking take on the minds of men and women (Evening Standard)

A devastating new contribution to the gender debate...dynamite (Mail on Sunday)

The minds of men and women are very different - and here at last is the scientific proof... scholarly but never dry, this will definitely provoke lively discussion (Daily Mail) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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 Verified Purchase
Written by a Cambridge professor of psychiatry and psychology, this book gives a fascinating insight into the difference between the male and female brain. It is essential reading for anyone in contact with children and those of the opposite sex, and will save you endless arguments, divorce, pointless relationships, possible litigation and most important - how to understand the differences between the male/female child and why they behave the way they do.
It includes chapters on the "extreme" male and female brain (Autism and Aspergers syndrome) and includes self - test apendices on your own ability to read another`s facial expressions (a great eye-opener), your degree of empathy towards others, systemising and finally autism.
Also by this author : Zero Degrees of Empathy (Essential reading for every human on earth - especially parents of young children and anyone in an abusive relationship).
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By Sarah Durston VINE 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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Format: Paperback
I'd recommend this book to anyone studying psychology like myself. Having read 'Delusions of Gender' I thought I would read about gender differences from a different perspective; with a focus on nature rather than nurture.
Overall this is not a difficult read and it raises some interesting questions. The portion of the book dedicated to autism is very interesting.
With the risk of being slapped with the term 'politically correct!' I do think Baron-Cohen has downplayed the role of nurture on gender development and not considered it much at all in this book. Although I personally believe nature to be the most dominant, other factors must also be carefully considered. Earlier on in the book the author references sexual assault (overwhelmingly perpetrated by men) as supporting evidence for his argument as it occurs due to the low empathising ability of men. Nevermind the portrayal of women in the media and the rise of 'lad culture' that a seventeen year old girl like me unfortunately knows all about.
There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence. It may have been written in this way to appeal to the layperson (ah yes! I know someone exactly like X) but it doesn't make for a compelling scientific argument.
Furthermore, although Baron Cohen feebly attempts to suggest that gender differences between men and women need not put either at any disadvantage I would say I am unconvinced. It appears to me that the male model is more advantageous.
Also Baron-Cohen briefly mentioned that just because sex difference exist doesn't mean that we cannot try to teach our sons to be more empathetic and teach our daughters to improve upon their systemising ability but he neglects to describe how.
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