“Men”, said my pal Howard – who was a good few decades older than me, “are literal beasts. They take what you say at face value. They will not spend hours teasing every word apart looking for alternate or hidden meanings. So, if you tell a man something – or agree to a course of action: he will believe you. He won’t try find a subtext.”
This is how it goes:
You say: “Of course I don’t mind you going out for drinks with the boys, have a great time!”
He hears: “Of course I don’t mind you going out for drinks with the boys.”
He doesn’t hear: “Why do you want to go out with them rather than stay with me? We’re a couple now, don’t you love me, have I done something wrong? It’s that woman at work, isn’t it. Do you want her more than me? I need to know … tell me what you’re thinking!“
So he goes out, has a great time, looks forward to coming home, hoping for a bit of action and walks into his worst nightmare: a furious woman, screaming and crying, refusing to be touched and inconsolable … and he has no clue why. Which only makes things worse.
We believe men don’t want to settle down, we believe they are dogs who chase anything in a skirt, we tell them they ‘just don’t understand’. And all of that is possibly true in some men. But most of the studies that have given us these results are done using guys aged between 18-22. In other words … guys that allow themselves to be experimented on for cash or university class credits. Would you take life advice from them?
Men (and their brains) change hugely over the course of their life. And the results of research conducted as a man gets older – quickly contradicts accepted wisdom. In short – men are complex beings. And men DO change.
So – from his laddish behaviour to his secret desire to mate for life: here’s what you need to know to navigate a man’s mind.
10. Men are as just emotional as Women
Baby boys are emotionally more reactive and expressive than infant girls. And adult men have slightly stronger emotional reactions, too. But – only before they become aware of their feelings. In a 2008 study published by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology: by the time an emotion reached consciousness/i.e. showed on a man’s face – he would mask it. Effectively becoming poker faced.
Boys are taught to hide emotions that we consider “unmanly”, that is any expression that would make them seem soft or vulnerable. The researchers at Lund University in Sweden have a theory about this – it’s all linked to the “fight or flight” instinct. By putting a lid on his emotions – the man projects as stronger, as more primed and ready to handle a threat.
9. Men are more vulnerable to loneliness
Loneliness hits us all – both mentally and physically. “But older men seem particularly vulnerable”, says Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of a “The Male Brain” and a professor of clinical psychology. Brizendine believes men don’t reach out to others as much as women do. This isolates them -. taking a toll on their brain’s social circuits. Which in turn worsens their loneliness, causing them to isolate themselves more. A vicious cycle.
The good news for guys is that men in stable relationships tend to be healthier, live longer and be more flushed in hormones that decrease anxiety. Having a lover or partner is good for the gonads.
8. Men do care – but they focus on finding solutions
While many studies suggest that women are more empathetic than men, Dr. Brizendine stresses this is not entirely true. The male’s empathy system does respond when someone is stressed or expressing a problem – but the “fix-it” region quickly takes over.
“This hub does a Google search of the entire brain to come up with a solution,” said Brizendine. So men appear to be more focused on fixing a problem, rather than showing solidarity in feeling!
7. Men are hard-wired to check out women
Guys have six times more testosterone rampaging through their veins than women do. While this hormone is most often linked to hostility and aggressive behaviour – testosterone is also the king of libido. Dr Pranjal Mehta, a social psychologist at Columbia University, has found that testosterone actually impairs the impulse-control region of the brain. Which, according to Louann Brizendine, may explain why men ogle women on “auto-pilot.”
However, “the good news”, she continues… “is they often forget about the woman once she out of their visual field”. So – if your guy is checking out all the gals – he may not be able to help it. And he won’t remember them twenty seconds later.
6. A man must defend his turf
Blame it on evolution. The part of the brain that prompts a man to ‘defend his turf’ is larger in the male than in the female. The smaller area may prompt a woman to the odd fit of possessiveness – but she is unlikely to get violent. For men, on the other hand – it’s an instinctive urge.
5. A man needs to know his place
An unstable hierarchy can cause men considerable anxiety, Brizendine says. But an established chain of command, for e.g. in the military, professional sport or certain jobs where employees are ranked: reduces testosterone and curbs male aggression.
4. A man really does mature – honestly
It’s all about the pecking order for those with a pecker. From as early as 6 years old – men get involved in a complicated dance where they vie for top dog position. “They put each other down constantly” says Brisendine, “but it is safer to be aggressive in a verbal jab, than duking it out.”
One-upmanship holds far less appeal for older men. They tend to pay more attention to relationships and bettering the community. “Because they no longer need to compete for status or mates – they focus on bonding and cooperation”, says Dr Mehta.
His research found that men with high testosterone levels tend to be better at one-on-one competition, while those with lower levels excel at competitions requiring team cooperation. Likewise as the amount of testosterone in a man’s system declines slowly as he ages, and he become less competitive and more of a team player.
3. A man’s brain prepares him for fatherhood
In the months before his baby’s birth – the father-to-be goes through hormone changes. A 2000 study in Evolution and Human Behavior discovered that men’s prolactin (a hormone that stimulates milk production after childbirth) level goes up, and their testosterone goes down. This shift encourages paternal behavior. Louann Brizendine (who wasn’t involved in the study) believes that a pregnant woman’s pheromones may waft over her mate, spurring these changes on.
2. Hi-jinks with Dad builds confidence in kids
The way a father plays – more teasing, robust and spontaneous than a mom – prepares children for the real world. A bit of rough-housing helps a child to learn better, be more confident and trust themselves. Having a Dad around also lessens kids’ risky sexual behavior.
Actively involved fathers tend to have lower testosterone levels. We don’t know for sure if hormone levels cause the behavior or vice versa, but researchers theorize that evolution has favored these dads. Human children are among the neediest of the animal kingdom and good dads optimize the chance that their offspring (and their genes) survive.
1. Men want to get married too
We know that women are all about putting a ring on it. And a man ain’t nothing but a hound-dog. But not so fast: this could be one of the largest misconceptions ever. Another one stemming from the tendency in American researchers to use students as subjects.
A study of Bolivian men (published in 2007 by The Royal Society) showed that they are more likely to cheat before they turn 30. After that, men primarily focus on providing for their families. Some do have a harder time with commitment than others: and that could be down to their genes. A 2008 study by The National Academy of Science claims that men without this “promiscuity gene” (an estimated 60% of the population), are more likely to marry.
And that’s not all. Both they and their spouses are also more likely to report relative marital bliss. Unfortunately – according to lead researcher Hasse Walum of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “the association is too small for single ladies to confidently use it when screening potential mates.”
So there you have it. The secrets (or not if you are an old bird like me) of the male brain. We’re not that different, but thankfully we are different enough to keep life interesting.
Research sourced on Live Science / images found in the Public Domain)