Thursday, June 19, 2014

Psychological Gender Differences in Action Sports: Do Males Have a Risk-Taking Edge?

Regarding psychological gender differences In Action/'Extreme'-Sports performance:  The age-old argument of 'Nature Vs. Nurture' should be thrown out.  It is BOTH Nature and Nurture that make us so different as male vs. female risk-takers, when we strip it down to the central psychological core.

You can train away most of the 'nurture' part by starting girls off at a very young age and by exposing them to and encouraging high-risk sports and challenges rather than Disney princess movies and tea-parties.  But you can never train away anatomical brain-gender differences.

As the level of risk goes up and the consequence of failure nears major injury or even potential death, the psychological pendulum swings toward the male brain, giving males a biological-based, advantage.  Males consider consequences less.  At that critical moment of high-risk, the male brain shouts "Go for it.  You got this.  Your buddies are watching and they already went..." without hesitation, more often than a female's brain, which more intelligently, may take another moment or two for additional risk-analysis before leaping.

You can't simply train away brain-anatomical differences.  There's not an exercise for it.  Male brains are bathed in testosterone beginning in the womb while a females' are bathed in estrogen, physically altering brain structure from the womb onward.  Men's brains have more testosterone receptors while female brains have more estrogen receptors.  Those receptors can't be switched off.  Neuro-mapping and pathways, and how we use right and left hemispheres of our brain may be altered to a degree.

Males are more 'fight or flight' while females are biologically (nature) more 'tend and mend'.  Male brains are wired to have a higher threshold of risk and be combative, while females can be more patient and nurturing. This isn't about one gender being better than the other.  There are pros and cons on both sides.  Why do you think women give birth and live longer on average, and have more social and emotional connections?  Where would I be without my wife of 19 years?  Probably dead or a surf bum on an island somewhere.

Women will always have larger Prefrontal Cortexes and smaller Amygdalas, than men -  Lower risk taking behavior and more emotionally involved, respectively.  Men will always have more testosterone than women.  This is not a negative, this is just biology.  Testosterone receptors in the male brain, may give a risk-taking edge.  We should be different and be allowed to be different, and embrace our respective gender if we choose.

There is this idealistic notion out there that females should be able to perform equally, on the same level as males in action-sports.  I don't agree, and if we are waiting for that day to happen, it may never come.  Progress in action sports has always been lead by males by a huge margin.  This does not mean that watching women extreme athletes is any less compelling or exciting.  The relative level of competition is just as intense, as is their relative rate of progression.  We must also take into account there are many more males than females participating in and competing in Action-Sports which will also widen the progression gap just by the gap in (lack of) involvement.
2013 X-Games bronze medalist, and 2013 Ladies Pro Bowl World Champion Julz Lynn (Kindstrand), above, seems to have honed her psychological fitness over many years of skating and found that critical mental edge  - that sweet spot of dopamine, Flow, clarity and adrenaline combining into present-moment magic.