Airpocalypse: Why are men bearing the brunt of it?

Airpocalypse: Why are men bearing the brunt of it?

A recent study revealed that breathing "dirty" air is causing a steep fall in our intelligence. Reuters file photo

Are we getting a tad dumber by the day? Apparently, yes.

A  study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently revealed that breathing  'dirty' air is causing a steep fall in our intelligence. Not just that, older people and the less educated --- men especially -- are bearing the brunt of air pollution. 

In other words, airpocalypse does not seem to be gender equal and brings to the fore, yet again, the debate on the difference in male and female brains. 

Are men and women wired differently? Or are such differences because of cultural and environmental influences? 

Dr Shantala Hegde, Associate Professor and Consultant Neuropsychologist, NIMHANS, says, "Human brain does not function in isolation. It does interact with the environment and the environment, in turn, can influence the way the brain functions (functionally and structurally). Cultural factors do influence the way we function." 

Dr Rajakumar, Director, Neurosciences, Fortis Hospitals, also believes one should not go by generalisations. "In general, whenever there is pollution, there is a definite poisoning of lungs. When you breathe in the polluted air on a daily basis, you tend to be moody, tired or short-tempered. Road rage and snapping at people are all results of this. In short, pollution affects the psyche of the individual. Moreover, you get all the chronic diseases of modern day," he says.

"As far as the effects of air pollution on men are concerned, look around and you see, for instance, that a majority of those who drive are men. That perhaps explains why they are more affected," he explains.

The age-old cliches and stereotypes surrounding male and female brains such as ''women not good at reading maps or parking and men not good with memory'' should then best be taken with a pinch of salt.     

The loyalists of John Gray's pop-psychology best seller 'Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus'  may find truth in Gray's theory but clearly, that's not what the experts are thinking.

"Traditionally, it is said that men are not good at cooking and cleaning. Does that mean they are not good at it? No. It is just about the person's interest in doing that," Dr Rajakumar says.
"The brain,'' he says, "is the most evolved organ in the animal kingdom. I operate on the brain every day or every week and am blessed to be able to do that."

"A woman's brain weighs a little lesser than a man's but that doesn't mean they are less intelligent. Everything depends on skills. Some are good at some things while some are not. Even those who are the most gifted lack in something," he says.

These differences in the brains can also perhaps be attributed to evolution and humans being hunter-gatherers.
But isn't it a known that women tend to score higher when it comes to the empathy factor and multitasking activities. Dr Shantala explains, "Studies in non-human animals and younger human populations (infants/children) offer converging evidence that sex differences in empathy have phylogenetic and ontogenetic roots in biology and are not merely cultural byproducts driven by socialisation.".

"Some researchers suggest that observed gender differences might be largely due to cultural expectations about gender roles," she points out.

She also avers that much research has shown that women are more empathic than men. "Yet, women and men are equally forgiving.  Interestingly, in a study carried out by Loren Toussaint and Webb published in the Journal of Social Psychology (2005) report that the association between empathy and forgiveness did differ by gender. Empathy was associated with forgiveness in men — but not in women," says Dr Shantala.

She explains that women outperform men in these multi-tasking paradigms, but the near lack of empirical studies on gender differences in multitasking should caution against making strong generalisations.

"Findings suggest that multitasking involves spatiotemporal task coordination and that gender differences in multiple-task performance reflect differences in spatial ability," she adds.

While there may be a consensus on pollution being the biggest deterrent to healthy living, the question of men and women being from different planets will be argued for days to come.