New evidence on sex differences in people’s brains and behaviors emerges with the publication of results from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Sex ID Internet Survey. Survey questions and tests focused on participants’ sex-linked cognitive abilities, personality traits, interests, sexual attitudes and behavior, as well as physical traits. The Archives of Sexual Behavior¹ has devoted a special section in its April 2007 issue to research papers based on the BBC data.

Frontal views of the brains of men and women. Credit: UCI

BBC Science, in collaboration with researchers in the United Kingdom and North America, designed their research project on psychological sex differences in conjunction with their TV documentary, Secrets of the Sexes. The project culminated in the creation of the BBC Internet Survey, which was posted on the BBC Science and Nature website.

In just three months (February-May 2005), over 250,000 people from all over the world responded to the full survey. Some initial results were presented in July 2005 in the program, Secrets of the Sexes. The complete dataset has been analyzed since, with key findings published in the current issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Included in the April issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior is a paper on methodology, describing the study’s history, rationale, ethics and methodological considerations, namely the advantages and limitations of internet-based research. Stian Reimers, from the Department of Psychology at University College London in the UK, says in this paper, “Much is made of the different agendas of science and the media, and the tensions that can occur when the two interact. Although this tension is not likely to disappear in the near future, it is hoped that this project can serve as an example of how positive interaction between the two professions can have beneficial consequences for both.”

The remaining papers address a range of topics in the study of sex differences and sexuality, including:

  • Mental abilities decline with age more in men than in women. All mental abilities decline with age, but the decline is steeper in men than in women. Furthermore, this effect is independent of sexual orientation.
  • Sex differences and cultural variations in mate preferences. Across all participants, the traits ranked most important in a relationship partner are intelligence, humor, honesty, kindness, overall good looks, face attractiveness, values, communication skills and dependability. However, on average, men rank good looks and facial attractiveness more important than women do, whereas women rank honesty, humor, kindness, and dependability more important than men do.
  • Associations among birth order, handedness and sexual orientation. The strongest handedness (left- or right-handedness) finding for both sexes is a marked tendency for participants who describe themselves as bisexual also to describe themselves as ambidextrous.
  • Sex differences and sexual orientation differences in mental abilities. Across nations, men score higher than women on tests of mental rotation and the ability to judge line angles, whereas women score higher than men on tests of object location memory and word fluency. On average, gay men’s visual-spatial abilities differ from those of heterosexual men—shifted in the direction of women’s abilities. Similarly, lesbian women’s visual-spatial abilities differ from those of heterosexual women—shifted in the direction of men’s abilities.
  • The link between sex drive and attractions to men and women. For women, high sex drive is associated with increased sexual attraction to both women and men. For men, however, high sex drive is associated with increased attraction to one sex or the other, but not both, depending on their sexual orientation.

Source: 1. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 36, No. 2, April 2007