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Are mirror neurons behind behavior differences between boys and girls?

Most small boys insist playing with trucks, most small girls with dolls, as every parent knows. It doesn’t matter if the parent tries to give toy trucks to doll-preferential girls and Barbie dolls to truck-preferential boys, the “wrong gender toys” are simply rejected. For some people, this seems to point to the existence of innate gender differences.

However, such observations don’t tell us what these innate differences are, specifically. To maintain that small boys have got their keen interest in trucks from evolution is clearly absurd. Nor is there anything inherently “male” about trucks -– any woman can drive a truck as well as a man; some actually do.

Preferential imitation

It is more likely that there is a “mirror neuron” mechanism at play here. The mirror neurons of girls may have been programmed by evolution to preferentially imitate what women around them do, and the boys’ mirror neurons preferentially to what men are doing. Almost all truck-drivers in our society today happen to be men, almost all caretakers of babies are women. What men and women in society are doing differently at any particular time is the “gender culture” of this society at that particular time. If the theory (or hypothesis, if you prefer) of gender-preferential mirror neurons holds water, then it is no wonder that the journey toward a society of gender equality proceeds at a snail’s pace.

The role of role models

Every new generation of men and women has -- via their mirror neurons -– subconsciously trained itself to behave in exactly the same way, gender-wise, as the generation before them did. Whatever change there can be from generation to generation, must come from a calculated, conscious effort from adult members of the new generation to radically change their gender role. Only a few pioneers are willing to put in such a calculated and conscious effort, so the new role models for the children’s mirror neurons are few and far between. Hence the gender culture changes very, very slowly from generation to generation, no matter what new legislation and progressive debaters are saying.

A testable hypothesis

Does this theory have any experimental, scientific basis? No, it’s just a hypothesis, so far. But it is certainly testable, so hopefully a brave and ingenious neurologist will come forward and perform the necessary experiments. These are likely to show that the gender roles in today’s society are not rigidly linked to our biologically determined sexual roles. Rather, they are linked to what adults of different genders happen to be doing differently in our particular culture, at this particular point of time.

Inspired by iceowl’s Deals well with ambiguity: a savagely long wu about why boys are not like girls and other things.

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