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It's a cliché that men  just don't understand women.

Now, new research suggests men really do  struggle to read women's emotions — at least from their eyes.

The  research, published Wednesday (April 10) in the journal  PLOS ONE, showed that men had twice as much trouble deciphering women's  emotions from images of their eyes compared with those of men. Parts of the male  brain tied to emotion also didn't activate as strongly when the men looked at  women's eyes.

While pop culture claims that men are from Mars and women  are from Venus, both sexes are pretty similar. Yet despite the genders'  psychological overlap, a few small studies in men have suggested they have  trouble "mind-reading" and guessing what women are thinking and feeling. For  instance, one study found that  men  interpret friendliness from women as sexual  come-ons. [ Busted! 6 Gender Myths in the Bedroom & Beyond ]

 Research also  shows that women  prize men who try to understand them.


To see whether men really did  have trouble reading women's emotions, Boris Schiffer, a researcher at the  LWL-University Hospital in Bochum, Germany and his colleagues put 22 men between  the ages of 21 and 52, with an average age of 36, in a functional magnetic  resonance imaging scanner, which uses blood flow as a measure of  to measure  their brain activity.

They then asked the men to look at images of 36  pairs of eyes, half from men and half from women, and guess the emotion the  people felt. The men then chose which of two words, such as distrustful or  terrified, best described the eyes' emotion. The eye photographs depicted  positive, neutral, and negative emotions.

Men took longer and had more  trouble correctly guessing emotion from women's eyes.

In addition, their  brains showed different activation when looking at men versus women's eyes.  Men's amygdala — a brain  region tied to emotions, empathy, and fear — activated more strongly in  response to men's eyes. In addition, other brain regions tied to emotion and  behavior didn't activate as much when the men looked at women's eyes. 

The findings suggest that men are worse at reading women's emotions.  This "theory of mind" is one of the foundations  for empathy, so the deficit could lead men to have less empathy for women  relative to men, the researchers write.

But exactly why this happens  isn't clear. While men could be culturally conditioned to pay less attention to  women's emotional cues, another possibility is that their differential response  is hard-wired by humans' evolutionary past.

"As men were more involved  in hunting and territory fights, it would have been important for them to be  able to predict and foresee the intentions and actions of their male rivals,"  the researchers write in the paper.