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GENETIC CLUE TO 'GIRL POWER'
By Helen Briggs
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
Women may be less prone to "geekiness" because of their genes.
Research suggests they are genetically programmed to be adept in social
The key is the female X chromosome, which seems to protect against disorders
linked with poor social interactions.
Dr Ruth Campbell of University College London, UK, says there may be genes
on the X chromosome that are important for the development of social skills.
Bringing up baby
Men have only a single X chromosome. It is possible that the difficulties
some experience in displaying appropriate social behaviour could be down to
this, she says.
"Having two X chromosomes may be protective against whatever predisposes
someone to not being able to make sense of the social world," she told BBC
"It makes sense for women, who have to give birth, to have evolved so that
the development of their social aptitude is well protected from accidents of
inheritance or environment.
"Their survival, and that of their babies, is particularly dependent on
reading social situations accurately."
The evidence comes from a study of women with Turner's Syndrome, a female
genetic condition caused by a missing or defective X-chromosome.
Many women with Turner's Syndrome have difficulties in social interactions,
and find it hard to read body language. They have normal intelligence,
however, and good verbal abilities.
A team at the department of human communication science tested the accuracy
of gaze perception in 41 women with Turner's Syndrome.
The women were shown pictures of two faces, one looking directly forward and
the other with a slightly averted gaze.
The researchers found that women with Turner's Syndrome were much worse at
distinguishing precisely where someone was looking - and this affected their
ability to tell if they were being looked at directly.
Dr Campbell says it is not that men are worse than women at social cognition
but among people who are really bad at it you are far more likely to find
men than women.
Autism and autism-like conditions such as Asperger's syndrome are far more
prevalent in men than women but it is not clear why.
David Potter of the National Autistic Society says a possible link with the
X chromosome is a plausible theory but far more research needs to be done.
"It's another small piece of the jigsaw but it's not going to explain all
cases of autism," he said.
The research is published in the online edition of the Royal Society's
Proceedings A and B.
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