Occupational choice and patterns of cognitive abilities

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Date: Feb. 1999
From: British Journal of Psychology(Vol. 90, Issue 1)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,108 words

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It has been suggested by several researchers that brain organization should be associated with characteristic patterns of abilities and interests (Berenbaum, 1978; Harshman, Remington & Krashen, 1983). As occupational choice is also, at least in part, a function of abilities and interests it follows that characteristic types of brain organization, for example those that are associated with sex-differences, should be associated with occupational choice (Kimura, 1992). There is much evidence that occupations are strongly sex-typed (Bielby & Baron, 1986; Baron, Davis-Blake & Bielby, 1986; Eccles & Hoffman, 1984) and, even in those professions which are now recruiting more females, the sexes often favour different specialities e.g., medicine (Maheaux, Dufort, Lambert & Berthiaume, 1988), engineering (Holdstock, 1997), and psychology (Russo, Olmedo, Stapp & Fulcher, 1981).

One source of insight into whether occupations are sex-typed entirely because of social factors or whether, as Kimura suggests, brain organization plays a role, is to investigate the neurocognitive organization of individuals in sex-typical and sexatypical occupations. Dichotic listening tests are now accepted as reasonably accurate, non-invasive indicators of brain organization, at least in terms of lateralization of verbal processing capacity (see for example, Hugdahl, 1995) and some variants of the dichotic procedure are sensitive to sex differences (Harshman, 1988). Thus, appropriate dichotic tests should predict occupational choice in males and females, and this was indeed found to be the case by Govier & Bobby (1994). Their study found that occupation was a more powerful indicator of dichotic performance and therefore of assumed cerebral organization than of the sex of the subject. In essence, they found that males and females in male-typical occupations were more lateralized than males and females in female-typical occupations. This finding was later confirmed by Govier & Boden (1997) who focused on workers in a single occupational context (a hospital) and compared the dichotic performance of male and female doctors, and male and female nurses. Again, occupation was found to be a better predictor of dichotic performance than sex. In order to test for educational or social class effects Govier & Attewell (1994) partially repeated the experiment using subjects in manual occupations. The male subjects were carpenters, asphalters, bricklayers and lorry drivers, and the females were aerobics instructors, supermarket shelf-stackers, seamstresses and barmaids. The pattern of results was very similar to that found in the 'extreme' professional groups with the males producing much more marked right ear advantages (REAs) than the females.

These results suggest that the association described above between occupation and dichotic performance may not be related to educational experience or to social class. However, it still remains a possibility that the cognitive demands of different occupations can affect dichotic performance and that this mechanism has produced the effects described above. Several implications result from these findings. First, there were marked intra-sex differences in the patterns of perceptual lateralization measured by the dichotic test. Specifically, some men had a cognitive profile characterized by aspects of verbal processing that are more typically observed in women and some women had a profile...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A54205707