This Sunday’s New York Times contained an op-ed piece with a title that was bound to catch my eye. “Are Women Better Decision Makers?” The column was written by a woman about a study conducted by two female neuroscientists. The lead paragraph to the column quoted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York for the proposition that Congress needed more female members because women are “more focused on finding common ground and collaborating.”
Do you wonder whether the female neuroscientists found women to be better decision makers?
Before dissecting the study and its findings, my major takeaway from the op-ed piece is the liberal bias in the willingness of the Times to publish it. Can you imagine any kind of scientific or political argument in the Times that men are better decision makers than women, or that whites are better decision makers than Hispanics? I remember Education Secretary Bill Bennett once refusing to discuss the merits of scientific studies comparing the IQs of blacks and whites. He said that regardless of whether the studies were accurate, the result was irrelevant and politically toxic. I agreed with that statement, and this op-ed piece reveals that the Times is willing to fan the flames for more man-woman political warfare.
Regarding the study, the essential finding was that men and women are equally adept at making decisions under normal conditions, with proper consideration to costs and benefits and risks. But under stressful situations (i.e., hands placed in painfully cold water), men apparently resorted to riskier, high-reward solutions, while women were better able to hold their course.
The scientific cause for men taking the riskier course of action is apparently cortisol, a steroid hormone created by the brain under stress. For some unknown reason, the man’s brain creates more cortisol when stressed than does the woman’s brain. Indeed, the modest additional amount of cortisol created by women “seemed actually to improve decision-making performance.”
Obviously, the study raises questions that can be researched further. For example, I read another study on the National Institute of Health website that concludes leaders, because of their enhanced control of most situations, surprisingly had cortisol levels much less than non-leaders. This suggests that increased cortisol in leaders, men or women, is not a problem that needs to be fixed.
More importantly, do we really want science like this to be a fact in selecting leaders?