Marriage counselors often point to a variety of factors that combine to ensure a long and happy relationship, basics like mutual respect, fidelity, communication, and occasional awkward attempts at romance. These are all important, of course, but I would contend nothing smooths the marital terrain quite as effectively as when a husband stops pretending he’s smarter than his wife.
I can’t cite any research on the relational effects of this pivot toward intellectual humility — my own experience during the past 40 years is purely and embarrassingly anecdotal — but there’s some recent evidence to suggest why it’s not misplaced.
A study by a team at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics found that the female brain is simply more nimble and efficient than what guys have been given to work with.
Researchers asked 140 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 65 to perform a number of tasks to measure their ability to switch their attention and retain information. Functional MRI scans tracked brain activity during the tests and showed that the men had to recruit help from more parts of their brain than the women to accomplish the same task — which proves their point about relative brain power but may debunk the notion that guys never ask for help.
“We know that stronger activation and involvement of supplementary areas of the brain are normally observed in subjects faced with complex tasks,” said study coauthor Svetlana Kuptsova, a junior research fellow at the university’s Neurolinguistic Laboratory. “Our findings suggest that women might find it easier than men to switch attention, and their brains do not need to mobilize extra resources in doing so, as opposed to male brains.”
Kuptsova suggested that this could all be traced to evolutionary factors: Women caring for children developed the extra brain power to handle numerous chores while the guys were simply focused on killing dinner or drinking some fermented beverage while lounging in front of the fire. But that’s all conjecture, she said. “There’s no hard evidence to support this theory.”
What she and her colleagues did discover was that this brainpower gap disappeared in study subjects of a certain age — women at 45 and men at 55. So, hypothetically at least, I could parade this evidence in front of My Lovely Wife and rescind my earlier admission of cerebral inferiority.
But given the fact that our household’s intellectual hierarchy has promoted a satisfying degree of domestic bliss all these years, I am smart enough to know that raising that point at all would simply prove that I’m still dumber than she is.