Menselijk, al te menselijk…

Vandaag trof ik in mijn mailbox een krantenbericht uit The Seattle Times aan. Het schijnt dat onder apen eenzelfde rolverdeling geldt als bij mensen: mannetjesapen spelen graag met speelgoedautootjes, vrouwtjesapen met poppen.

Dit is de tekst:

All too human? Monkeys mimic children in toy picks

By Robert S. Boyd

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Just like human boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars while female monkeys prefer dolls, a research project has shown.

This intriguing discovery is one of many signs of deep-rooted behavioral differences between the sexes that scientists are exploring with the latest tools of genetics and neuroscience.

Researchers report significant differences in the structure and functioning of male and female brains — in humans and in animals — that show up in different behaviors.

The differences apparently date far back in evolutionary history to the time before humans and monkeys separated from their common ancestor about 25 million years ago, said Gerianne Alexander, a psychologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who led the experiment published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Researchers put a variety of toys in front of 44 male and 44 female vervets, a breed of small African monkey, and measured the amount of time they spent with each object.

Like little boys, some male monkeys moved a toy car along the ground. Like little girls, female monkeys closely inspected a doll. Males also preferred balls while females fancied cooking pots. Both were equally interested in neutral objects such as a picture book and a stuffed dog.

People used to think that boys and girls played differently because of the way they were brought up. Now scientists such as Alexander say a creature’s genetic inheritance also plays an important role.

“Vervet monkeys, like human beings, show sex differences in toy preferences,” Alexander wrote in the report. “Sex-related object preference appeared early in human evolution.”

Alexander speculated that females of both species prefer dolls because evolution programmed them to care for infants. Males may have evolved toy preferences that involve throwing and moving, skills useful for hunting and for finding a mate.

Besides observing behavior, scientists are using the latest brain-scanning techniques to examine what happens inside people’s heads when they are thinking or acting.

PET (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagery) scans light up in regions of the brain that are most active while performing certain tasks. They have become a key tool of modern brain research.

Many studies have shown that, in general, men tend to be better at mathematics and spatial reasoning while women outdo men in verbal and language skills.

For example, in a computerized maze-searching experiment, it took women five minutes longer than men to find their way to a goal, according to Scott Mowatt, a psychologist at Wayne State University in Detroit. But women outperformed men in a test of verbal fluency conducted by Wei-li Chang and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

“Human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,” Richard Haier, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in the journal NeuroImage.

Haier also reported a striking difference in the structure of male and female brains. Men, he said, have much more gray matter in areas dedicated to general intelligence. Women, on the other hand, have far more white matter in those areas. Gray matter consists of the clusters of brain cells, or neurons, that process information. White matter refers to the network of specialized cells that support and connect the processing centers. Both are necessary for intelligence.

“Men and women apparently achieve similar IQ results with different brain regions,” Haier said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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