Originally written May 2009
To explain this, we are going to break the problem down into three levels of explanation, working from the bottom, up: Theory of Mind, Different Minds Fallacy, and Motivation Attribution Bias. Once we explore these concepts, we will have the tools to answer the individual questions of why boys are jerks and why girls are stupid.
THEORY OF MIND (ToM)
This is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. More specifically, it is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others, and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from your own.
For example, if I have a picture of a tree laying on a table in front of me, and there is someone sitting across from me, I am able to understand, via a ToM, that the person across the table sees the tree as being upside down.
This seems trivial and obvious. And it is. But while it is easy for most people to realize that a picture they are looking at would appear to be upside down from an observer across the table, there are other areas of life that are much more difficult to understand from a different perspective.
DIFFERENT MINDS FALLACY (DMF)
I made this term up, so there might be a different term describing the same concept. If so, I don’t know about it. The DMF is the false assumption that your mental experience of something is the same as someone else’s.
Everyone has something they are really good at, mentally speaking. There are things that come easy to some of us, while there are other things that might be quite difficult. With myself, I am quite good with visual/spatial problems. I can rotate shapes in my head quite easily. However, I am extremely bad at math. I always have been, and I imagine I always will be.
Some people are very, very good at math. Just as visual/spatial problems are easy for me, math is easy for them. No matter how hard I try, there is no way that I can imagine what it would be like to be in that persons mind—the person who is good at math. The only things that I can comprehend are things that my mind is able to comprehend or understand. I know that sounds trivial, but think about it.
What would it be like to be someone like Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman, where extremely advanced math equations just come easily to you? What would it be like to be someone who has Down’s syndrome, and can only understand the world in a very limited way? Or what would it be like to be someone with synesthesia—where you can taste colors, or see music?
Unless we have similar brain states, we have no idea what it would be like to experience that state of mind. We can understand that it happens, but we in no way can comprehend what it would be like.
A more appropriate example might be this: I have no idea what it would be like to not have a girl’s attractiveness be the most important trait. I can’t even comprehend how that would work. Likewise, girls have no idea what it would be like to have a guy’s physical attractiveness be the most important trait. Girls just don’t get it what it is like to place so much emphasis on someone’s looks, as opposed to their personality (such as confidence and sense of humor). And neither sex ever will get it, simply because we can’t understand what our minds aren’t programmed to understand.
So all that we are able to comprehend and understand is limited by our own minds. And we are unable to break out of that understanding, and completely understand what it would be like to be someone with a different mind. All you can know is what you know.
MOTIVATION ATTRIBUTION BIAS (MAB)
I introduced this concept in a previous blog, but I will explain it again.
This is when you attribute someone’s behavior, beliefs, actions, etc. to what you think the motivation is, rather than just asking the person about the actual motivations. Most likely, you are assuming that the person is doing something for the same reason that you would do such a thing.
Whenever someone does something, we have to guess about their motivation and reasoning (unless they tell us what it is). Often times, we might be right about their motivation. However, we are usually coming to our conclusions by trying to imagine why WE would do such a thing if we were in the same situation. However, we all think differently, and have different reasons for doing certain things. I might see someone do something and think “well, they did that because of X”, but I could be completely wrong, since that person might have a different reason for acting that certain way.
For example, people often claim that I am an atheist, simply because I want to lead a life of meaningless sex, and hard core drug abuse—all guilt free. Obviously, this isn’t true. But to those people, the only reason they can think of for being an atheist, would be so that they could do those things. And since that would be their motivation for not believing in God, they assume it is also my motivation.
So the bias is essentially the false assumption that everyone does things for same reasons that you do. Obviously, this is not true at all.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Now that we have laid a groundwork on some of the basic assumptions that our minds operate with— and the problems that those assumptions—we can start to explain the questions.
WHY BOYS ARE JERKS
Guys tend to have a lot of other male friends. They might think differently about some things, however, there will be a general consensus about the most important thing in the world (from a biological perspective), the survival of our genes. Because of this basic instinct to reproduce, all men share the same basic instincts. That is, all men generally want the same thing: an attractive girl.
Now while the small details might different (blonds vs brunettes, for example), most guys can come to a consensus on what is attractive, and what is not.
So guys grow up, talking to each other about girls, checking out the same girls, and thinking about girls in a similar way. There is sort of a group reinforcement that goes on, since guys will come to see that “oh, you think the same way I do about girls, and like the same things that I do.”
So to guys, we share these ideas, such as “it would be cool if some random girl just came up and wanted to make out” or “wouldn’t it be sweet if that hot girl just grabbed my butt?” Most guys would agree, yes, that would be quite awesome.
And since this mentality is reinforced among other guys, guys will then think “well, I think it would be cool if a girl grabbed my butt while standing at the bar, and my friends think the same thing. So the girl standing at the bar would probably like it if I grabbed her butt too.”
So we can see some of the problems we have discussed earlier already popping up. The guy is unable to put himself in the position of the girl (ToM), and think about what he is going to do, from her perspective (DMF). This false perspective is because he is unable to understand her perspective to begin with. And this then causes him to assume that if he liked it, she would like it too.
So whenever a guy does something stupid, like grabbing a girls butt, or whistling/honking as a girl jogs down the sidewalk, or makes some crazy proposition, the guy is only doing it, because in his mind, he would LOVE it if a girl did the same think to him. He thinks “I would like it, so she probably would too.”
Every time a guy makes some ridiculous pass at a girl, and you think “What the hell is he thinking? Why does he think that would impress her?” just realize that he was thinking (assuming, actually), “I would like this. So she would probably like it too.”
Of course, as we have seen, this train of thought has a number of different problems with it. And unfortunately, no guy will ever be able to completely comprehend this, including myself. We can be told “that is not good”, and hopefully understand the reasoning behind it (“girls don’t like it”). However, we will never truly be able to understand the underlying reasons of why exactly girls don’t like it. And this is for the same reason that I will never know what it is like to be good at math. The male brain works one way, and it is impossible to imagine it working in another way.
So guys really aren’t trying to be jerks. They just are making a mistake, assuming girls think like they do.
WHY GIRLS ARE STUPID
While guys have their fair share of thinking gone awry, girls are nowhere near from off the hook. The main thing that drives girls, and often guys, insane, is their ability and willingness to analyze every little detail of something, picking apart every word that was said in a conversation, or trying to find hidden, underlying meaning in any sort of interpersonal event – especially if boys are involved.
Like with guys reinforcing each other regarding how to think about girls, girls reinforce each other in terms of overanalyzing things, and this is done via their girl talk sessions.
From what I have gathered, girl talk consists of not only one girl rehashing every event that has her interest, and giving her theories about it, but all of the girls in the girl talk, giving their opinions and theories on every minute detail of the event in question.
Of course, having multiple opinions on something is very good, and can be quite helpful. However, the goal of girl talk is not to find the most reasonable answer, or the most rational conclusion. The goal is to find the most dramatic conclusion (since that is also the most interesting conclusion). If a girl went on a date, and the guy gave her a small kiss goodnight, it just CAN’T be that the guy didn’t put much thought into the length of the kiss. The REAL reason must be that he was scared to kiss her, because he doesn’t have much experience, or that he was nervous, because she is so pretty, or that he recently got out of a long relationship, and kissing had devolved to being short, and not as long and passionate.
There are a million reasons that girls could come up with in an attempt to explain the length of a kiss. Just taking a flip through a magazine like Cosmo reveals how much girls love to do this. There are always sections on “decoding what your man says” or “what your man’s bathroom reveals about his commitment issues” and other tripe. The worst I have ever seen was an article on the meaning behind the day a guy takes you out on a date, and what this can tell you about the guy!
Of course, girls don’t consciously make the choice to try and find the least objective, most dramatic reasoning behind a situation. They are doing this for the same reason that guys whistle at jogging girls. That is, the girls are looking for underlying meaning in things that guys do, because THEY themselves put meaning into everything they do. Humans are pattern seeking animals, and are able to find patterns and meaning where none actually exists. Girls just exploit this shamelessly.
A guy going on a date might put a little more thought into what he is wearing than on an average day. But girls put enormous amounts of thought into what they are going to wear every day, and especially on a date!
A guy might think “I will wear this shirt, because it is clean, looks good on me, and it might be a little warm, so I can always roll up the sleeves if I need.” A girl would think “Does this make me look sexy? Maybe too sexy? I don't want him to think I am a slut. But I don't want to look too conservative. Maybe if I wear this top with these pants I will look more mature.” Everything from shoes to hair style is there for a very specific reason.
Unfortunately, the guy won’t pick up on any of the meaning the girl has put into her outfit, while the girl will attempt to find meaning behind the guys outfit, even though none exists. And then after the date, the girl will have girl talk with her friends, and attempt to find even more meaning where none exists.
The reason that girls analyze, and overanalyze every little thing a guy does and says, is because girls assume that since they puts meaning into things, guys must do the same thing. And since girls are unable think any other way than how they think (DMF), they assume that guys think and act with the same reasoning that they do (MAB).
So girls really aren’t stupid. They just are making a mistake, assuming that guys think like they do.
As we can see, the main complaints that are thrown between the opposite sexes are actually a result of a few missteps in thinking. We assume that the opposite sex thinks the same way that we do, and in turn, act in ways that reflect that false assumption. When in reality, guys need to recognize that most girls don’t find the idea of getting groped or whistled at to be very appealing. Likewise, girls need to realize that there isn’t any hidden meaning behind what a guy says or does, and not feed into the lure of overanalyzing every little detail, even when your friends insist.
Unfortunately, it is easier to acknowledge the differences in thinking than it is to really internalize it. But recognizing the mistakes in our own mental processes are the first steps to understanding the seemingly bizarre behavior of the opposite sex, and understanding why boys can seem like such jerks, and why girls can seem to be so stupid.