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The reality and evolutionary significance of human psychological sex differences

ABSTRACT The aims of this article are: (i) to provide a quantitative overview of sex differences in human psychological attributes; and (ii) to consider evidence for their possible evolutionary origins. Sex differences were identified from a systematic literature search of meta‐analyses and large‐sample studies. These were organized in terms of evolutionary significance as follows: (i) characteristics arising from inter‐male competition (within‐sex aggression; impulsiveness and sensation‐seeking; fearfulness; visuospatial and object‐location memory; object‐centred orientations); (ii) those concerning social relations that are likely to have arisen from women's adaptations for small‐group interactions and men's for larger co‐operative groups (person‐centred orientation and social skills; language; depression and anxiety); (iii) those arising from female choice (sexuality; mate choice; sexual conflict). There were sex differences in all categories, whose magnitudes ranged from (i) small (object location memory; negative emotions), to (ii) medium (mental rotation; anxiety disorders; impulsivity; sex drive; interest in casual sex), to (iii) large (social interests and abilities; sociosexuality); and (iv) very large (escalated aggression; systemizing; sexual violence). Evolutionary explanations were evaluated according to whether: (i) similar differences occur in other mammals; (ii) there is cross‐cultural consistency; (iii) the origin was early in life or at puberty; (iv) there was evidence for hormonal influences; and (v), where possible, whether there was evidence for evolutionarily derived design features. The evidence was positive for most features in most categories, suggesting evolutionary origins for a broad range of sex differences. Attributes for which there was no sex difference are also noted. Within‐sex variations are discussed as limitations to the emphasis on sex differences.


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