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Old May 30 2013, 04:20 AM   #46
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

This week, "Battle of the Sexes 2."

"You throw like a girl": I can see how this saying would've originated in the past when athletics were seen as only a male thing and women were expected to be homemakers and stuff. In that case, it would've been a matter of experience and practice rather than innate difference. So I guess the question is whether there'd be any meaningful difference in today's more egalitarian society.

The fact that the males had more speed and less accuracy seems a pretty natural result; they'd tend to have an advantage in upper-body strength, which would allow for throwing harder/faster, and a tradeoff between speed and accuracy is predictable enough -- you'd need more training to be able to optimize both at once. So it shows that a different ability isn't necessarily an inferior one. Which was pretty much their final conclusion.

It was an interesting hypothesis that maybe men are more adapted for throwing because of evolutionary specialization as hunters. But they did a good job debunking it by the simple expedient of having people throw with their non-dominant hand and removing any effect from training. That did seem to suggest that males' better throwing form was down to cultural conditioning -- boys are typically taught to throw from a very early age.

I'm not sure I agree with their statement that the professional female pitcher had the same form as the professional male one. She too seemed to stay more upright than he did, even though her pitching performance was just as good. I wonder if difference in body shape and mass distribution might be a factor there -- maybe with more weight concentrated on the front of the chest, throwing your upper body forward could create more risk of overbalancing.

I just tried this out on myself, sort of, pretending to throw something and seeing what my form was like. And as I expected, I stayed pretty upright -- the only time I angled forward was when I was self-consciously thinking I should do that. I don't have the ingrained training to do that. Which kinda makes sense, since I was never much for athletics. But on the other hand, I remember that I was into baseball when I was very, very young, like three or four years old, and I did play catch with my father at least occasionally, though I don't remember if I (or he) was ever any good at it. So maybe if it is a learned cultural skill, it can be unlearned due to lack of practice.

Anyway, I appreciate the thoroughness of their methodology on this test, trying to separate out innate differences from cultural differences. It's too bad this was the only test they did that for.

(Oh, and nice to see Adam and Jamie returning to their old ILM stomping grounds.)

Multitasking: Okay, a pretty straightforward result, with the women doing better at multitasking in the scenario they set up. But they didn't really test whether it's a cultural/experiential difference or something more basic. And I have to wonder if setting it up as a homemaking/parenting sort of scenario stacked the deck in favor of women, who in our culture are more likely to have experience with that. What if it had been, say, playing an MMORPG, burning a CD, and making microwave popcorn at the same time? Or something more gender-neutral like doing a written test, an oral test, and a jigsaw puzzle at the same time?

Oh, and Baby Buster was cute. And those ham sandwiches looked good.

Asking for directions: This one had the kind of result I like, totally contradicting the stereotype. Almost everyone asked for directions when lost, with just one exception for each sex, but the men actually asked sooner on the average.

What interested me most here, though, was not the thing they were testing, but the way the drivers they were testing talked to themselves once they started getting lost. Did they know they were on camera and were offering commentary, or did they think they were alone and just talking to themselves? The thing is, I talk to myself all the time, and I've always kind of assumed that was unusual, a habit I picked up from growing up lonely. I definitely get vocal when I'm behind the wheel, or at the computer, and worried because of something going wrong. I'm interested to know if other people are just as prone to talk to themselves in similar situations. It would certainly make the use of soliloquies and thinking out loud in fiction seem less contrived.

Parallel parking: Ohh, this was unnerving for me. I'm not a good parallel parker. The problem was that my driving instructor taught me how to maneuver around the cones to pass the test, but never really explained to me how to translate that to the real-world experience of parking. I can see in the abstract how the same principles apply, but I wasn't given the training that would let me get a feel for how to maneuver around cars instead of cones and sticks. So I generally try to avoid parallel parking unless I can find a nice wide space, even if it means I have to walk a few blocks farther. I've never actually bumped another car while trying to park yet, but that's mainly because I'm too nervous about the possibility of doing so and resist taking chances.

And again, no effort to determine if the difference was cultural, though I guess that's a hard thing to test in this case. Although I suspect it would be, since I think my own technique would be closer to the women's, more cautious and meticulous.

I think Kari and Tory were a bit oversimplistic in how they evaluated the statistics. The averages for both sexes may have been the same, but it seemed the standard deviation for the women was distinctly wider, and that's a significant difference. Again, not necessarily better or worse, but different. It would be worth investigating why there was a greater range of parking skill levels among the women.
Written Worlds -- Christopher L. Bennett's blog and webpage
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