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The Evolution of Sex Differences in Language, Sexuality, and Visual–Spatial Skills

Abstract

The evolutionary neurological and physical foundations for human sex differences in language, sexuality, and visual spatial skills are detailed and primate and human studies are reviewed. Trends in the division of labor were established early in evolution and became amplified with the emergence of the “big brained” Homo erectus. A bigger brain necessitated a size increase in the birth canal and female pelvis. These and other physical changes, e.g., the swelling of the breasts and buttocks, may have paralleled the evolution of full-time sexual receptivity, the establishment of the home base, and exaggerated sex differences in the division of labor (hunting vs. gathering), which in turn promoted innate sex differences in visual spatial vs. language skills. For example, female primates produce more social and emotional vocalizations and engage in more tool use and gathering activities, whereas males tend to hunt and kill. Similar labor divisions are evident over the course of human evolution. “Woman's work” such as child rearing, gathering, and domestic tool construction and manipulation contributed to the functional evolution of Broca's speech area and the angular gyrus—which injects temporal sequences and complex concepts into the stream of language and thought. These activities gave rise, therefore, to a female superiority in grammatical (temporal sequential) vocabulary-rich language. Hunting as a way of life does not require speech but requires excellent visual–spatial skills and, thus, contributed to a male visual–spatial superiority and sex difference in the brain. Over the course of evolution males acquired modern human speech through genetic inheritance and because they had mothers who taught them language.

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Joseph, R. The Evolution of Sex Differences in Language, Sexuality, and Visual–Spatial Skills. Arch Sex Behav 29, 35–66 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1001834404611

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  • evolution
  • sex differences
  • language
  • visual spatial skills
  • Homo erectus
  • Cro-Magnon
  • inferior parietal lobe
  • Broca's area