She currently studies how male and female brains process information differently — their cognitive functions. She also looks at how natural chemicals in our bodies, called hormones, relate to different cognitive patterns in men and women, in much the same way that other hormone studies have discovered different physical asymmetries in men and women. For example, researchers have found that, on average, men have larger right testicles and women have larger left breasts.
Kimura’s research has shown that, on average, men outperform women on a variety of spatial tasks, especially when an object must be identified in an altered orientation, or after certain imaginary manipulations such as folding. Men also excel at tests of mathematical reasoning, with the differences between sexes most remarkable when it comes to the most brilliant mathematicians. Women, in contrast, are generally better able to recall the spatial layout of an array of objects, to scan arrays quickly to find matching objects and to recall words, whether word lists or meaningful paragraphs. These sex differences usually begin at an early age and last a lifetime. They also occur across cultures.
She is investigating why women have an advantage over men in the recall of verbal material. She has shown that this advantage applies to words such as “idea,” which convey abstract concepts, as well as to words like “potato,” which name real things. Strangely, she finds that, on average, women are not better at recalling nonsense words such as “borgin,” a preliminary finding she is pursuing.
Kimura experiments purely for the purpose of increasing human knowledge about the differences between men and women with no particular practical application in mind. However, in an environment where it can be politically dangerous to question popular notions of the equality of men and women, her research is perceived by some to be very controversial. Kimura believes it’s natural for men and women to choose different careers, preferring jobs that best fit their innate talents.
In her opinion, the larger number of men in fields of mathematics, computing, engineering, and physics is a fact of life. She criticizes recent initiatives to increase the representation of women in these disciplines. She says, “Engaging in coercive social engineering to balance the sex ratios may actually be the worst kind of discrimination. It also serves to entice some people into fields they will neither excel in nor enjoy.”
BA (psychology), McGill University, 1956
MA (experimental psychology), McGill, 1957
PhD (physiological psychology), McGill, 1961
Canadian Psychology Association award for Distinguished Contributions to Canadian Psychology as a Science, 1985
Canadian Association for Women in Science award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement, 1986
Fellow, American Psychological Society
Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
John Dewan Award, The Ontario Mental Health Foundation, 1992
Honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University, 1993
Sterling Prize in support of controversy, Simon Fraser University, 2000
Furedy Academic Freedom Award, Society for Academic Freedom & Scholarship, 2002
Distinguished Researcher, Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Science, 2005
Kisler Prize, 2006