Multi-tasking and the man

16 Sep

I haven’t done Pilates classes for a few years and attended a rather humbling class on Sunday morning at my new gym. Many Pilates instructors are rather like field marshals or drill sergeants to me, and this one was no different: she put us into the crazy and challenging Pilates poses and scolded us if we couldn’t keep up. Pilates is difficult physically as well as mentally – there is a lot to be conscious of with each pose –

  • lie on your left side with hips, knees, and ankles stacked
  • prop up on your left forearm and keep your upper arm at a 90 degree angle
  • left hand flat on the mat
  • place your right hand around your left side
  • straighten left arm, lift from the hips, and pull yourself up by the ribs
  • straighten the body and balance on your left foot

… hold the for 5 breaths and pull abdominals to the spine on the exhale

The drill sergeant admitted that the poses were challenging and that there is a lot to keep track of, adding that the poses can be more difficult for men because “Men have a difficult time multi-tasking.”

I laughed to myself – testosterone and evolution at work!

We all have testosterone in our bodies. Testosterone helps build muscle, red blood cells, and in men, produces sperm. Testosterone has been shown to decrease talking and social interaction in males and is the drive behind the “one track mind”:  it is task-oriented, it is focused, and it gets the job done – at least one job at a time.

Describing his transition from female to male, a Dutch sex-change patient explained the hormonal differences in perception after receiving testosterone to make himself more masculine:  “The visual is so strong… when walking down the streets I absorb things around me… It gives a euphoric feeling. I do miss however, the overall picture. Now I have to do one thing at a time; I used to be able to do different things simultaneously.” (See Heroes, Rogues, and Lovers: Testosterone and Behavior.)

Not only does testosterone affect a man’s abilities and narrow his focus, on an evolutionary level, it has kept him alive – testosterone has sharp concentration and testosterone is about action. Were it not for the narrowness of its focus and ability to snap to action, the human race might all be vegetarian (wait a minute..).

What I mean is that males needed that focus on the task at hand in order to hunt and explore and survive. Social psychologist and Heroes… author, James M. Dabbs explains that “Prehistoric man hunted and traveled, and they had to be able to find their way home without getting lost. Good hunters and travelers survived to pass their spacial abilities and their testosterone on to succeeding generations.”

The late Dr. Dabbs devoted his professional research to testosterone and social behaviour. His studies found that “men and animals who are higher in testosterone persist in what they start, and work longer at a task without being distracted… It appears likely that testosterone is a factor in stubbornness as well as persistence.”

Men and women, though both human, are very different. Each gender has its own strengths and weaknesses based in nature (hormones) and nurture (socialization), and both of these concepts, I believe, are of equal importance and operate simultaneously. Generally, when it comes to accomplishing tasks and you want a whole bunch of things done simultaneously, ask a woman. If you want one job done well, take advantage of the focus of testosterone and ask a man to do it.

For further reading on the topic, this NZ article is quite good.

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