Design With a Purpose

In a 2007 Angelus address on the relationship between faith and reason, Pope Benedict XVI said, “When man limits his thoughts to only material objects … he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself, and God … While modern science has granted mankind numerous benefits, it has also led many to believe that the only real things are those which can be experimented with.”

For Catholic Christians, scientific truths can reveal theological truths. The Catholic understanding of “sexual complementarity,” for example, is a theological explanation of sexuality and biology. My current favorite blogger Steve Gershom, of Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine, Thanks, wrote, “The Church believes, and I believe, in a universe that means something, and in a God who made the universe—made men and women, designed sex and marriage from the ground up.” Yep, you got it.

When we talk about the theology behind our bodies, we’re not merely talking about who is sexually attracted to whom and whether it is wrong or right. We are talking about the fact that both men and women have distinct and irreplaceable roles in our world. If you believe that God played a role in designing the universe, it’s really not all that far-fetched to think that God had a design strategy, is it? C’mon.

Because, as Christians, we think that God loves every one of us and that we are equally important to Him, we can reasonably conclude that He designed us with an idea of what would best lead to our individual, ultimate fulfillment. No one on this blog is saying that God doesn’t love people with same-sex attraction or doesn’t want them to be happy, or that they shouldn’t be afforded their basic human rights, love and respect. That’s just plain hooey. There simply comes a point when we need to honestly ask what the material (our bodies) tells us about the immaterial (our ultimate purpose).

But that’s just theology talk. So, here’s a little science talk from a RealClearPolitics article that points to the idea that both men and women—moms and dads—play complementary, irreplaceable roles in keeping humanity moving along. Frankly, it’s pretty unsurprising, but for some reason, we need to keep remind ourselves of this:

In an intriguing set of empirical studies just published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a team of social scientists led by professor Sanne Nauts shows that the mere prospect of speaking with an unknown woman reduces men’s (but not women’s) performance on cognitive tasks.

In the first study, 71 college students at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands were asked to complete a “lip-reading task” while supposedly being observed on a webcam by an unseen researcher who would instant message them. When the alleged researcher messaging them was named “Lisa,” the men performed worse than when the purported observer messaging them had a male name.

In a second study—this one involving 90 students—the researchers decided to create even more distance between actual interaction with a woman to see if merely imagining that they were about to interact with a woman could affect men’s cognitive performance.

As in the first study, participants were escorted to a cubicle by an experimenter of their own sex, ostensibly to collect stimulus materials for a study on lip reading.

Then the students were merely told they were being observed by a researcher named either Danielle or Daan, who would turn on the webcam and send them an instant message. That never happened. Nonetheless, the mere idea they might soon be messaging with an unknown woman whose attractiveness they could not evaluate caused in the men what the researchers call “cognitive impairment.”

The authors attribute this to the cognitively costly effect of impression management, which leaves less brain energy for other tasks:

“Men seem so strongly attuned to mating opportunities that they were influenced by rather subtle cues to a woman, even in the absence of clear information about her,” they note. “Casually mentioning a female instead of a male name was sufficient to impair men’s cognitive performance.”

It may just be that firing up the reward systems of the brain makes men less focused on the task at hand. The authors cite a 2004 study led by Bram Van den Bergh, intriguingly titled “Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice.” After men were shown photos of women in lingerie or swimsuits, they became generally more impulsive—e.g., they tended to prefer a little cash now to more cash down the road.

The author then observes that:

The most interesting thing is that the inverse is not true for women. On average, women who were told they would interact with men did not perform any differently on cognitive tasks than women who were told they would be interacting with women.

Gender simply matters less to women.

Unlike men, women have a category called “human” in which gender (while recognized) is relatively unimportant. As a hypothesis for future busy research scientists, I offer the suggestion that this may be due to the primacy of maternity in women’s evolutionarily adapted brain structure. The category “my baby” is way more important than the gender of a child to the mother.

And then surmises:

Men and women really are different. Not only our bodies, but our brains react differently.

Suppressing reality in the interests of ideology doesn’t help women—it just makes us all act in dumber and dumber ways. 

Share this page to spread the word.
Share Tweet