Belfast Telegraph

The battle of the sexes

By John Costello

Apparently, men are better drivers and drinkers while women love to talk and can multi-task. John Costello explores seven sexist clichés

It is a sexist cliché almost as old as the automobile itself, but the notion that women cannot park is baloney, according to the latest research by scientists.

In fact, the boffins believe that female drivers are even more adept than their male counterparts when it comes to slipping their vehicle into tight spaces.

Despite what the male ego would have us believe, women are not only better at parking, but also tops at finding spaces and reversing into them, according to car-park firm NCP, which carried out the most comprehensive study ever conducted into gender driving differences.

But while scientists may have busted the parking myth, what's their verdict when it comes to the other gender stereotypes often used as artillery in the battle of the sexes?

Let's pass a scientific eye over seven sexist clichés to see who comes out on top.

1. Men are better drivers than women

Well, despite women proving to be professional parkers, it would seem that men won't be so quick to stop the smart-aleck comments when it comes to their driving skills.

Psychologists at Queen Mary University of London found that once cars venture outside the parking lot, it is men who truly triumph. Their research discovered that driving in a strange environment was far more challenging for women, because they tend to rely on local landmarks to get around, while men use their superior spatial awareness.

The results showed that while women whopped men when remembering the position of objects, men consistently excelled in navigational tasks.

So when it comes to driving Miss Daisy, men are much more likely to be better qualified.

2. women are better at multi-tasking

Men's apparent innate inability to multi-task seems to be taken as gospel by the majority of women. But does it stack up scientifically?

Well, researchers recently decided to investigate this age-old complaint by giving men and women a series of simple tasks to perform at the same time.

Each had eight minutes to solve a simple maths puzzle, while finding restaurants on a map and sketching a strategy for how they would search for a lost key in an imaginary field. And yes, as female readers probably already guessed, the ladies significantly outperformed the male participants in the study.

Interestingly, while women were able to multi-task better by doing all four activities well at once, men really became flummoxed when it came to finding the lost key.

"Men are supposed to have better spatial awareness than women," said Professor Keith Laws, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, who led the research.

"But of all the tasks we gave, the key searching task also required planning and some kind of strategy. It shows that women are better at being able to stand back and reflect for a moment while they are juggling other things."

3. Women talk men under the table

The old, tired cliché would have us believe that women love to talk. But, it appears, that is not so much a cliché as it is a scientific fact.

Indeed, men are left tongue-tied in the talking stakes when it comes to the fairer sex, because the areas of the brain responsible for language are more than 17pc larger in women than men.

The female brain is also better able to transfer data from one side of the brain to the other because women have a high-speed connection to power their motor mouths.

However, men's brains have to rely on the equivalent of dial-up internet access when it comes to connecting their brain to their vocal chords.

And it is these anatomical differences that can result in superior language skills, according to researchers at the School of Communication Disorders, University of Sydney, Australia.

4. All men have very selective memories

When it comes to memory the sexes are definitely not on the same wavelength. Scientific research, however, shows that it is not a matter of better or worse, but just different. However try telling that to a man who has been chastised for forgetting his wedding anniversary.

The scientific fact is that women will always tower above men when it comes to remembering birthdays and anniversaries.

But men are better at storing facts and figures. This is because the two sexes record memories in different ways.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, found that males use different genes than females when making the new connections in the brain needed to create long-term memories.

This is why men are far better at remembering “tactical” things, such as directions and trivia, while women are better at retaining “emotional” memories such as wedding anniversaries.

5. All men are colour-blind

The boffins have also backed the stereotype regarding the superior colour sense of women compared to men. And this is all down to natural selection, which has provided women with the ability to better discriminate between colours, according to research undertaken in the University of Maryland.

This study found that the gene for seeing red is only carried by the X chromosome, restricting men's ability to appreciate the full colour spectrum.

Scientists have speculated that while men were out tracking down dinner and developing their higher level of spatial awareness, women were gathering the garnish -- fruits, foliage and insects -- all the time improving colour awareness.

The ability to distinguish between the red berries that were tasty and the red berries that were poisonous obviously became a vital skill. Needless to say most of the women who had difficulties distinguishing small differences in colours didn't live long enough to pass on their genes.

6. Women have a better sense of smell

Women also nose ahead when it comes to having a good sense of smell and continually outperform men in odour sensitivity tests.

However, this is not so surprising given that the ability to detect odours and aromas is linked to the oestrogen hormone. Indeed, a US study has shown that it is only women of reproductive age who are far better at identifying odours than men.

7. Men can hold their drink better

While many believe women can't drink because of their smaller body size, the real reason has to do with the different water-to-fat ratios in male and female bodies.

Men are made up of about 61pc water, whereas women only average about 52pc.

This means that every time a guy sips a drink it is being watered down almost 10pc more than a woman's. Sneaky, hey?

Men also produce higher amounts of the liver enzyme dehydrogenase, which helps disarm the effect alcohol has on the body and helps us sober up. Hence, alcohol hits women much faster and harder than men. So, yes, this time the cliché rings true.

Science tells us when it comes to the battle of the sexes that sometimes men are hot-wired to be better at some things, while women naturally triumph at others.

So vive la difference! Because as Henry Kissinger once said, "No one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there's too much fraternising with the enemy."

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