Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Mysteries of The Brain

by Julia Buckley
Since fall is approaching, my family must begin talking about whether or not to take a fall trip--some long weekend away which would allow us to march through autumn leaves and find inner peace. (Or just to eat lots of food and argue in a more beautiful atmosphere).

To me, traveling means endless lists, arrangements, decisions--and all for a couple of days of freedom. For example, we have five pets. Four of them (cats and a fish) can stay home and be tended by our nice neighbor--but one (our hyper dog) needs to be boarded so that he doesn't tear apart the house when we're gone. I need to make sure the home pets all have proper food and that the windows are open the right amount and no doors will slam shut and lock them into a room with no food or litter box.

I have other lists, too, that look like this: BOYS' PACKING; NECESSITIES; DIRECTIONS TO HOTEL and BACKPACK SUPPLIES; FINAL CHECKLIST; etc. Why do I make all these lists and agonize over them? Well, for one thing, if I didn't, no one would--I live in a house full of men.

I attended a lecture two years ago about the current research into the brain--primarily the differences in the way males and females learn and process information. Because the structure of the female brain is actually more complex than the structure of the male's, women are able to consider more possibilities in a given situation--hence the lists. Men's brains are streamlined. They make decisions. They say things like, "Here's how it is: period." Women, at least women like me, agonize over decisions forever because they can't always see which option is the best.

Ironically, this is one of the things experts say makes girls and boys of equal intelligence perform differently on multiple-choice tests. Boys will read the options, decide the answer is A, and mark A. Girls will read them, narrow it down to A and C, and then waste time worrying over which is correct.

It's not surprising, then, that women often take control of things like trips or parties, because they'll look aghast at their husbands and say, "But you're not considering this! Or this!" and the husbands will look back with bleak expressions, thinking "Here we go again."

It's biology that does this to us; knowing that, I made my lists of options and then gave them to my male family. "I came up with seven possibilities for our lodging," I said. "They all have different advantages. You decide."

And they will--in about one minute.

17 comments:

Beth Groundwater said...

You know, sometimes I think my man is from Venus and I'm from Mars, and your post, Julia, is just confirming that. In my family, my husband is the one who dithers for days over all the options (especially if we're considering buying a piece of technology), and I'm the one who wants to decide NOW. Maybe it's because he's an engineer through and through, and I spent years as a software projects manager for a defense contractor before I retired to write mysteries. I learned and applied the principle of "it's good enough for government work."

My husband is always trying to find the optimal solution, while I'm willing to opt for 'good enough' and move on to the next task. It may also because I'm busier than him, with more on my plate. When it comes to laying out a plan or schedule, though, I'm the one who's got the best handle on that.

Keith Raffel said...

Men's brains versus women's brains? I have only one criterion -- who reads more fiction? Women win. As Ian McEwan said, "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

Vicki Doudera said...

Our family was male-brain heavy for eighteen years, and then both of my sons went off into the world. HA! Now my daughter and I dominate with our conversation-craving, consensus-building "little gray cells" -- until the boys come to visit, that is.

Have a great trip!

Lisa Bork said...

I'm with Beth. My husband considers all the options--twice. Me, I made the decision yesterday. I do all the scheduling--so he can say, "You didn't tell me that."

Julia Buckley said...

Well, Beth and Lisa, I guess there's an exception to every rule. :)

Keith, perhaps there's a study in that . . . what part of the brain needs to be stimulated to make someone want to read a book?

Vicki, I'm sure the environment is rich with options in your house. :)

Jess Lourey said...

I want to know where you decide to go!

G.M. Malliet said...

We divide the list-making chores equally in my household.

I wonder if it's a male or female trait, however, to always arrive at the airport many, many hours before the plane is due to take off. I used to think I was bad...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Since there is no male in my home except for one of the cats, I now realize why I can't get anything done. Half of me wants to dither over the options, the other half wants to make snap decisions. It's like my brain is compensating for the lack of male brain cells hanging about. And I also know now why several past boyfriends were always snapping at me to quit stalling and make up my mind. Thanks for clearing this up, Julia. It's nice to know I can blame everything on gender.

Darrell James said...

I've always said: "women are about form, men are about function" (hence the over/under toilet paper debate.) In our house it's always about how it will "look" vesus how it will "work"...

Or, maybe I'm just proving your point, Julia.

Julia Buckley said...

Haha. Blame away, Sue Ann. Keith is notably silent. :)

GM, I sympathize with whomever arrives there early. The airport can be such a horrible trial that I can imagine people trying to counteract all the ridiculous flight changes, delays, re-locations, etc. by being organized.

Jess, if we stay in Illinois we will probably go to lovely St. Charles on the Fox River. If we head to Michigan, we'll choose a resort town like Saugatuck or South Haven. But you'll notice I'm still fluctuating between A, B and C. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Maybe, Darrell--but then again, I'm just sort of channeling someone else's point.

But regarding that toilet paper debate, it should obviously go over. :)

Catherine A. Winn said...

Sue Ann Jaffarian, you are a hoot. But now I know why I procrastinate :)

Julia, great post!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Catherine.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

HA! Whenever I lived in a home with men, whether it be my dad and brother or a significant other, the argument about toilet paper was never over vs. under, it was about me yelling for them to replace the roll when they emptied it! That bugs me more than the whole toilet seat up thing.

Julia, did the brain study cover that topic?

Alice Loweecey said...

I live with 3 males and 2 "used-to-be-males" (the cats). The human males are almost as anal-retentive as me (scary). I end up being the practical planner while they analyze routes and alternatives and best=ways. They get up places faster, but I'm the one who packs the essentials. It works for us. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Good to hear, Alice!

Sue-Ann, it was actually a really interesting lecture. The doctor who spoke did also suggest that some people are "tree people" and others are "forest people." That is, they either see the details or the big picture. You, who wanted the paper changed, were the tree person. Your male relatives were forest people. :)

Jessie Chandler said...

Brains are a strange thing. My partner, Betty, dithers over anything technological while I'm the "get it and let's go" gal. One holiday we spent in Florida, and for three months before the trip we looked at new cameras at Best Buy, Costco, Sam's Club, Sears, Target, K-Mart, and other places. Multiple times. And don't even get me started on the HOURS Betty spent searching on the web.

So we get to Florida, sans camera. A couple days into the trip I put my foot down, we make a dash to Best Buy. Two-and-a-half agonizing hours later, I told her, "Get it or forget it," and we FINALLY walk out of the joint with a new picture-taking tool.

On the other hand, the preparation for any trip falls to me, and out come the lists :-)

PS once the smart phones came out with good cameras, our much stressed-over camera just gathers dust on the bedroom shelf.