How Women "See" (really "Feel") the Work World


Jillian Eichel, our Chicago friend at the The Wright Institute sent us this item.  Useful.

Our understanding is that most of these perceptions take place in milliseconds and largely unconsciously.  It’s not that individual women “decide” consciously to do these things or act these ways but instinctively their brains evolved to react these ways.   All of this, of course, in the service of raising highly dependent young children. 

Comments in (….).

“What Women See, and Why It’s Important
Women see the world through a distinctive lens and can use their vision to their advantage. Author Sally Helgesen provides this posting’s list of The Five Things Women Notice — and What Organizations (and Men) Can Learn From Them.

1. Women take a robust scan of the emotional temperature in a room. Women employ their capacity for broad-scale notice in order to read what people in a meeting are feeling.   Are they present and engaged, or do they feel isolated and awkward? Example: One woman in our book was asked by her employer to “just notice what goes on in a meeting” She came back with vital observations about a key partnership in jeopardy. Her employer dismissed the information, saying that “by notice I meant notice if the numbers add up.”

(Guys actually are equally attuned to dominance ranking and signals in meetings.  NOT individual feelings.  Taken to an extreme, this tendency in women is called “vacuuming up feelings.”)

2. Women employ multiple senses when summing up a situation.
Notice isn’t just about what we see—it derives from multisensory impressions.

Example: Details matter. An otherwise powerful conference will not make as positive impression if the sensory aspects of it are unpleasant.  Sound, smell, temperature and feel affect our judgment and how we remember. Yet most organizations don’t know how to use sensory information.

(Since women were “gathers” vs “hunters,”  being able to use all the senses in finding food and resources was critical.)

3. Women notice if the daily experience of work is rewarding. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many organizations tend to emphasize abstractions when offering incentives and rewards rather than supporting an employee’s ability to enjoy the daily practice of work.

Example: In our survey on differences in how men and women perceive, define and pursue satisfaction in the workplace, we found that women are less likely to be motivated by what a job might lead to in the future if they also perceive that job as offering a low quality of life in the present.

(Similar to the movie The Hurt Locker on a bomb-disposal team in Iraq, we recently watched a great documentary on a crack and experienced national guard team in Iraq.  The mind-numbing repetition, discomfort, danger, stress and physical exhaustion of their day-to-day jobs was surprising.  But the Type-A, “warrior” male brain goes through this terrible experiences with equanimity even finding humor, friendship and enjoyment in the work!!  A wholly other kind of brain is needed to nurture and raise young children.)

4. Women notice when collegiality is not valued. Many companies have learned to speak the language of teamwork and collaboration, but their policies do nothing to support it.

Example: In most sales units, providing support to help a team member meet a goal is neither recognized nor rewarded. People are instead graded and ranked on their individual achievements.

5. Women notice when other women’s suggestions get overlooked in a meeting. They see it as a sign of disrespect to women in general.

Example: Jill offers an idea at a sales conference. No one responds. Ten minutes later, Jim makes the same suggestion, using different words. This happens all the time. Men who notice this have a great opportunity to show their support for women by speaking up: “Great idea, Jim! I see you’re building on what Jill suggested.”

(On these last two points, the male brain is 110% focused on dominance hierarchy – who gets the most “meat” from the “hunt?”  Women usually find this silly, “bad” and anti-social.  What women often miss is that the “fights” and dominance negotiating among men are all to support their families, loved ones, co-workers, team, leaders-“kings.”  Most other social animals do the same.)  

Why Read It? While we all know the skills  women bring to the workplace, Sally Helgesen (author of the bestselling title The Female Advantage) and Julie Johnson have written a book to show us that women don’t just do things differently, they also see things differently.

The Bottom Line: In this work, Helgesen and Johnson present the three core elements of female vision: a capacity for broad-spectrum notice, a  focus on the quality of day-to-day experiences rather than abstract measures of achievement, and the penchant for viewing work in a larger social context. Recognizing these factors will grant everyone, regardless of gender, a powerful new way of thinking, seeing, and acting in the workplace.

“Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women, for their strengths.”

Applying brain research to behavior is less about changing someone than getting an accurate read on


Harvard – Dopamine Deficits Play Important Role In Individual Differences In Economic Risk Taking In Men


There is a substantial amount of new, good research looking at not just the descriptive behavioral economics of investing and financial risk taking behavior but the actual brain mechanisms driving harmful economic and investing behavior.

These are focused mainly on inherited, congenital neurotransmitter deficits and impairments.  These same conditions get worse with age and under stress or other physical ailments.  

This study of brain processes is exciting because it offers the promise of understanding the conditions causing the harmful behavior, instead of just concentrating on the symptoms.

Moving from a focus on symptoms to the medical conditions is the mark of scientific progress and treatment potential.

This is a long paper and we have just excerpted some of the text.  The full article pdf is attached.   Please note this is not a final published version but a working paper.   You will find full citations on the pdf.  

“Risk preferences are of great practical importance given their relationship with economically significant behaviors such as competitiveness, career choice, savings behavior, and pension  choice, among many others.  We are only beginning to understand the potential role of  variation in specific genes, such as the dopamine gene DRD4, in contexts involving risk preferences.  This implies that more studies on DRD4 are merited, as well as the identification  of other genes which may influence risk preferences. 

Individuals differ significantly in their willingness to take risks.  Such differences may stem, at least in part, from individual biological (genetic) differences.  We explore how risk-taking  behavior varies with different versions of the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4), which has been implicated in previous studies of risk taking.

Discussion And Conclusion

Literature suggests that genetic contributions to individual  (biological) differences have substantial implications for economic and behavioral studies.   Further, genetic inheritance is a potentially important mechanism to consider when  interpreting correlations in preferences between parents and offspring, and when considering  determinants of preferences more generally.   

This is not to say that heritable genetic factors fully determine behavior; experience and environment clearly matters.  But the addition of genetic factors to economic models is highly likely to improve our understanding of behavior, thereby improving our models and increasing their predictive power.

There is a vast literature on risk taking.

  • It reports significant heterogeneity in levels of  aversion within and across populations
  • Risk preferences appear to be a complex and  multi-dimensional trait, perhaps explaining why some studies report correlations across risk domains.  
  • Though a variety of environmental forces, e.g.,  culture, no doubt contribute to such results, genetic variation may be a strong contributor as  well.

This study focuses on variation in the dopamine receptor gene DRD4:

  • This gene has  previously been related to risk preferences in the economic domain, though with some  inconsistent results
  • This analysis seeks to deepen our understanding of the 7R+ genotype’s  relationship to risk taking by looking at a variety of risk-related activities, with a focus on economic risk taking.


  • Significant positive correlation between economic risk taking and general risk taking, and the positive effect of 7R+ among men on economic risk taking
  • We find no relationship between 7R+ and self-reported general risk taking
  • This latter finding is in line with the results of different genes correlating with economic and psychological risk measures.

This does not imply that risk preferences are unstable, nor that they are context dependent.  In fact, Dohmen et al. (forthcoming) find evidence for a single trait operating in the different risk contexts they explore, but with some variation across  contexts, perhaps due to differences in risk perception 

We find evidence that:

  • Individuals with a 7-repeat allele (7R+) of the DRD4 genetic polymorphism take significantly more economic risk in an investment game than individuals without this allele (7R-)
  • This positive relationship is driven by the men in our study, while the women show a negative but non-significant result.
  • Considering other risk measures, we find no difference between 7R+ and 7R- individuals in general risk taking or any of the risk-related activities.

Overall, our results indicate that:

  • The dopamine system plays an important role in explaining individual differences in economic risk taking in men
  • But not necessarily in other activities involving risk.

Risk preferences vary substantially across individuals, with women and older individuals.  Some of this observed variation has been associated with biological factors.  For example, twin studies on Swedish and Chinese twins suggest that genetic differences account for 20% and 57%, respectively, of individual differences in risk preferences in these two nations.

Relatively little is known about the specific genetic determinants of individual variation in risk preferences, although a number of recent studies explore possible associations between specific genetic loci involved in chemical signaling in the brain (neurotransmission) and economic risk preferences.

One neurotransmitter that has received particular attention is dopamine, due to its relation with reward processing in the brain.  Activation of the dopaminergic reward pathways, and thus the release of dopamine neurotransmitters:

  • Can generate feelings of pleasure and well-being that become associated with the behaviors that triggered the activation
  • This makes dopamine a major player in reinforcement of behaviors that are associated with the anticipation of rewards.

Of the genetic markers for dopaminergic function, the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4)  has been identified as a candidate for explaining variation in economic behavior, and has received most of the attention in the literature thus far.  As with many other  genes, DRD4 comes in various versions (“alleles”), which differ among individuals.

There is a  specific region of the gene which contains a repeated sequence of DNA base pairs.  In different individuals, this sequence is repeated a different number of times (typically 2-11  times) on each of the two relevant chromosomes.  The multiple versions of the gene are frequently divided into two dichotomous classes, those with fewer than 7 repeats on both chromosomes (7R- ) and those with 7 or more repeats on at least one chromosome (7R+).

  • Functionally, individuals with the 7R+ genotype are putatively less sensitive to dopamine uptake
  • Therefore 7R+ individuals require higher levels of dopamine to produce a response of similar magnitude to that of 7R-  individuals
  • In order for 7R+  individuals to achieve a comparably satiating response in the brain’s corticomesolimbic dopamine reward pathway, they may engage in more stimulating behaviors than do 7R- individuals.

Such genetic variation in response to dopamine may thus contribute to individual differences in those personality and behavioral traits that are associated with the dopamine system.  Such traits include:

  • novelty seeking
  • pathological gambling
  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • behavioral disinhibition
  • alcoholism
  • impulsivity
  • sexual promiscuity
  • and many other behaviors.

Economic risk taking may be another important behavioral trait related to the dopamine system.   Four recent studies explore this possibility. 

Two of them find a positive association:

  • 7R+ men invest significantly more money into a risky investment than do 7R- men. They also examine a second dopamine receptor gene DRD2, and find no relationship between genetic variation in DRD2 and risk taking.
  • Kuhnen and Chiao (2009) similarly find a positive relationship between the 7R+ genotype and risk preferences in a laboratory measure.  They also find that the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR helps to  predict risk preferences.

However, when the probabilities are ambiguous or when losses are possible, they find that 7R+ individuals do make riskier choices than 7R- individuals, in accord with the other studies.

7R+ men who have been given L- DOPA become more risk taking than 7R- men given the drug. 

We also examine the connection between the 7R+ genotype and self-reported general risk taking, as well as behavior in self-reported risk-related activities.  We hypothesize that 7R+ individuals will be more risk taking than 7R- individuals on all risk measures. 

Our dependent variable for economic risk taking is the amount of money participants put at risk:

  • 7R+ individuals are significantly more risk taking than 7R- individual
  • However, there is a  significantly different effect of 7R+ on men and women, seen by interacting the variable for being a woman and 7R+
  • This indicates that 7R+ may have different effects on economic risk taking in men and women in our sample, and we thus pursue the  analysis of men and women separately.

Looking Only At Males:

  • 7R+ men take significantly more risk than their 7R- counterparts when controlling for age and height.
  • The effect is sizeable: 7R+ men  take 22% more economic risk than 7R- men

Age is also significantly related ; older individuals take less risk.  The effect of 7R+ on risk taking persists when neither age nor height is controlled.

Looking At Women Only:

  • The effect of 7R+ is non-significant when controlling for age and height and when neither covariate is included
  • The sign of the effect of the 7R+ genotype on economic risk taking is negative in the female sample, the opposite of what is observed in the male sample.
  • The lack of statistical significance of among women is not surprising given the very low number of 7R+  women.

Economic vs. General Risk Taking
We now consider general risk taking.  There is no significant relationship between general risk taking and our variable stocks/(stocks+bonds) in the male or female subsamples.  General risk taking proved to be not related to having started a company, smoking or drinking alcohol for women. 

For men, however,the relationship between general risk taking and entrepreneurship is significant and in fact negative.

Given the profound effect of 7R+ on economic risk taking in males, we might expect it to affect general risk taking, as indicated by the response on a 10-point scale to the question:“Are you a person who is generally prepared to take risks or do you try to avoid taking risks?” 

Indeed, in our sample economic risk taking was significantly positively correlated with general risk taking.   Nevertheless, looking at the whole sample, perhaps surprisingly, 7R+ has no significant effect when controlling for gender, age and height, nor when no controls are included.

We also find no significant effect of 7R+ on general risk taking for either gender, or that the effect differs between the genders.

The only significant predictor of general risk taking is gender, where women take fewer risks.

First we consider economic risk taking. Correlating economic risk taking with stocks/(stocks+bonds),and including both genotyped and non-genotyped participants, the relationship is not significant for either men or women.

We also find no relationships between economic risk taking and entrepreneurship (having started at least 1 company).  Note however, that about half of both men and women in our sample have started a company. This is many times higher than the national (US) average.

There are no significant associations between economic risk taking and being a smoker.   Looking at the relationship between economic risk taking and drinking alcohol, the relationship is not  significant for either men or women.

There is also a significant positive relationship between general risk taking and drinking alcohol in the male subsample.

7R+ And Risky Activities
To explore potential effects of the 7R+ genotype on investment allocations, we look at our variable stocks/(stocks+bonds).  In a regression analysis, we find no significant relationship  between the 7R+ genotype and investment in stocks and bonds either with or with covariates.

Being female is however negatively associated with more risky, whereas height is positively effects in the expected direction.  The interaction effect between 7R+  and gender is not significant, thus we do not look at the male and female samples separately.

Brain Region Lights Up For Power And Profit


Now brain-scanning studies suggest that the link between profits and power takes place in the striatum – part of the brain involved in sensing rewards.

“This provides the biological basis of our everyday experience that personal reputation is felt as reward.”  …the striatum showed bursts of activity as a result of both profit and praise.

Status and Stress — “In monkeys and in humans it makes a big difference whether hierarchy is static or dynamic,” he says. “If the hierarchy is fixed forever, then it’s good to be the top monkey.”   If others can usurp the throne, high status and high stress might go hand and hand.

Looking Upwards.…the striatum of the volunteers lit up only when they saw pictures of their “betters”.   “The brain encodes social hierarchy by paying attention to superiors and not inferiors,” ….. the brain scans showed that a rise in rank tended to activate a region involved in planning actions, while a demotion lit up a brain area linked to emotional pain.

"…winners … resist the temptation to escalate conflicts, while the losers punish and perish"


‘Put simply, winners don’t punish,’ says co-author David G. Rand of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Department of Systems Biology.

‘Punishment can lead to a downward spiral of retaliation, with destructive outcomes for everybody involved. The people with the highest total payoffs do not to use costly punishment.’

“The thing that is best for you is to stop contributing, to walk away, as opposed to expending a lot of effort insulting them, threatening them or taking aggressive action.”

Punishing someone else in a situation where both parties are equal creates an “opportunity cost.   “The time that you are spending being punitive toward the other person could be spending doing things that are more productive.”

But it also does not pay to let the freeloader ride along. “It’s not quite turn the other cheek.  “We are saying you should only do as much as the other person is doing.”

Findings only apply in one-on-one situations — not to societies or cultures as a whole, or situations in which one person is more powerful than the other

‘There’s been a lot of previous work on the use of punishment in cooperation games, but the focus has not been on situations where individuals use punishment in the context of ongoing interactions,’

There is a strong negative correlation between individual payoff and the use of costly punishment.    Winners used a tit-for-tat like strategy while losers used costly punishment.   Furthermore, costly punishment did not increase the average payoff of the group.

The study shows that punishment is not an effective force for promoting cooperation.   

The unfortunate tendency of humans to engage in acts of costly punishment must have evolved for other reasons such as establishing dominance hierarchy and defending ownership, but not to promote cooperation.  

 In cooperation games, costly punishment is a detrimental and self-destructive behaviour.

‘Punishment may be a tool for forcing another person to do what you want.   ‘It might have been for those kinds of dominance situations that the use of punishment has evolved.’

‘Our finding has a very positive message: in an extremely competitive setting, the winners are those who resist the temptation to escalate conflicts, while the losers punish and perish,’