Spaghetti vs. Waffles: Gender Differences in Cognitive Problem Solving

The Big "C"

When it comes to romantic relationships Communication is the "Big C Word" that everyone talks about but few seem to be able to master. Whether it's personality, familial, or gender differences, there always seems to be something standing in the way of perfect communication.

But hey, a relationship with perfect communication would be boring, right? No matter your mastery of this skill, there is always more to know and improvements to make.

One of the biggest factors in communication differences is gender. Men and women just naturally think differently, and while this can be examined from many perspectives, one that has recently caught my eye is the "waffle vs. spaghetti" analogy.

Perhaps an example (the best I could find): " When a man asks a woman, "Will you please bring me that stack of papers on the coffee table?" A woman will bring him the stack of papers, and a pen to write with, and notice the coffee table needs dusting, and that they should really get new coasters, etc, etc, etc. However, if a woman asks a man , "Will you please bring me that stack of papers on the coffee table?" A man will bring her the stack of papers and that will be it"

According to the Book

As far as I can tell, this analogy originally started with this book by Bill and Pam Farrel, so much of the credit for this hub must be given to them. I will, however, add my own speculations later. Now lets be clear, I haven't actually read this book, but I have previewed it and I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's saying, and it's good enough for me to recommend to other readers.

The primary way this difference is manifest is in how connected our thoughts are. Basically, men compartmentalize and women interconnect everything.

If you look at a waffle it's all boxes (especially the square waffles) and each box is separate. This is the typical man's mind--everything separate and in it's own special place. When he's fishing, he thinks about fishing, when he's at home, he thinks about home duties, and when he's at work, he thinks about work. There is little crossover.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the female mind of spaghetti. Everything is interconnected.  While they are at work they are not only thinking about work, but about what to make for dinner, how to get the kids to soccer practice, and what style to get her hair cut and when.  The true spaghetti woman is a cognitive multi-tasker.

My Speculative Additions

That's the gist of the book, for more indepth explanations and examples, buy the book.

I've also seen this play out in other ways that I would like to share as well, and perhaps someday the Farrel's will stumble across this and affirm my speculations.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Thinking--One way I've seen this play out in my relationship is that I (the man) tend to be a more linear thinker than may girlfriend. For example, when preparing to write and give a talk about dating vs. courting, my girlfriend and I had two different approaches. I, the linear thinker, prefer to start the first, most basic step--defining each term. My girlfriend prefered to simultaneously think about all the aspects of each type of relationship, how to present this information, analogies, and who should be talking about what and when. Quite simply, I was thinking about one thing at a time, in "proper order", and she was thinking about everything at the same time in every possible permutation.

Goal vs. Process Oriented-- The second way I've seen this play out is in goal vs. process orientation. I am goal oriented, my girlfriend is process oriented. Basically those who are goal oriented are focused on results and the finished product, whereas those who are process oriented are focused less on the destination and more on they journey, the "how" you do it. For example, in shopping the man goes in for the one thing he needs, not bothering to get distracted by other stores, a woman may shop knowing what she needs, but delights in the process of shopping, going from store to store, rather than making that final purchase.

The Problems

Obviously differences in how people think can cause differences (and problems) in how they communicate. In this paradigm this can be especially difficult in problem solving cases. Because these cognitive characteristics deal with how we deal with new situations, communication issues can arise while dealing with new and challenging problems.

When dealing with communication issues, I often prefer to use the example of planning a trip, an activity which, while exciting, can be just stressful enough to cause tension often because of different personality and gender issues. You can extrapolate to other situations from there.

Connectedness: While planning a trip the waffle-man will start at the beginning and move sequentially to the end.  They will plan one step at a time.  Work on car details, then lodging details, then work on site seeing.  The spaghetti-woman will of course be interconnected, thinking simultaneously about who to leave the kids with, all the cities you want to stop in, what groceries you will need to pack, and what dress she should wear to the special night out.  The man couldn't care less what he wears until he is actually getting ready.

Goal vs. Process-- When planning a trip, the man will start with the goal.  "Where are we going"?  All other questions are a matter of process--good to know, but not necessary.The woman, however, will not necessarily care where you're headed, but will be more concerned with what to do on the way.  What towns will you stop at, what sites do you want to see, and how many days do you want to take to get there.  While the man might want to just get to the destination, the woman may want to take her time in getting there.

Linearity-- Again, when planning the man will be a linear thinker--he will start with the goal and then proceed with the most logical step.  While this will most likely include planning the "process" of how to get to the goal, it will be much more organized and logical than the woman, who will try to tackle every detail at once in no apparent meaningful order.

For Better Communication

For better communication the first step is understanding. If you understand what and why your partner thinks and communicates the way the do, you are more likely to (at the very least) accept it.  Secondly, remember that there are strengths and weaknesses to both types of thinking, and that any problem is best solved using both methods.  Two heads ARE better than one, after all.  Finally, USE the strengths of your partner, women, appreciate the detail and specificity that comes with a waffle mind, and men, appreciate the interconnectedness of the woman's mind.

One thing to remember: these are not absolute profiles--they are meant as guidelines. While one male may be the perfect waffle and one woman the perfect spaghetti, overall this is a continuum.  Many men have some spaghetti in them and many women can waffle.  This is merely a tool to understand the general parameters under which each gender operates.

© 2011 rdlang05

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Comments 12 comments

Christine P Ann profile image

Christine P Ann 5 years ago from Australia

Interesting hub. Women need to interconnect everything as we have way more to think about and get done in the quickest way possible. Multitasking is our forte. We don't have the luxury of being able to focus on one specific thing at a time. If we did then most things would just not get done. No I am not sexist, I just prefer spaghetti to waffles.

rdlang05 profile image

rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Thanks Christine,

I'll agree, in my experience women typically are "busy" and I know that multitasking can definitely help with that.

Alison 5 years ago

This was an extremely well-written article! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

rdlang05 profile image

rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota Author

Thanks Alison!

schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 5 years ago from USA

It appears to me from reading this that the woman has a superior brain to be able to multi task so well, but that she needs a man to be solid, hence the match.

The video about women vs. men....well that's from a guy's point of view clearly not understanding women or the frustration therof, which looks sexist. If a woman had a video like that I suppose it would make the man look bad or maybe not.

I've had the experience with men that they feel they are superior thinker and think logically....well no one's better than the other, in fact they claim men are superior to woman as single but in marriage the woman is, the heart of the home.

I guess I dídn't like the detection of chauvenism I detected....

But maybe I'm woman do stupify men? Though men can do the same.

rdlang05 profile image

rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota Author


Definitely no chauvenism intended. I don't think men are superior to women, or vice versa. Both ways of thinking have their advantages and disadvantages.

I do find women confusing sometimes (heck, I find other men confusing sometimes as well), but I know that us men confuse women just as much.

Really its just about trying to understand how people think differently than us.

Thanks for the comment!

schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 5 years ago from USA

Oh, thankyou! :)

McLaren 83 profile image

McLaren 83 5 years ago from Planet Earth

Scientificaly men are better at multitasking and do it more and in dangerous jobs such as flying jets, driving racing cars and in war. Women tend to believe they are better at it due to things they do around the home. But no real evidence says they are.

rdlang05 profile image

rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota Author


Interesting, can you show me a study? I'd like to incorporate that somehow if I can.

John 5 years ago

the Conservatives love for you to think this way as do the marketers that can sell to "you" because your a guy or a girl and this is for YOU.

many of the "Studies" and experiments that exist in the wild have been way exaggerated by the media reporting them(people love to read this and the media loves to sell it) or have had small sample sizes. I read a debunking of one that only tested like 40 people but it was headline news.

an interesting thing to note: how you are taught to think and believe does alter the structure of your brain. this never really stops unless you shut out new info or shrug it off instead of analyzing it.

you can believe these things are just innate as long as you want but it wont make them true. for similar evidence this whole men have to be macho thing is a bi product of a fear of loosing their masculinity when urbanization occurred. just because Hollywood shows old movies of men always acting like the men we see today doesn't mean they historically did. look up the sailor's songs of ww2 (then remember that negative connotation that we learned as kids about the navy)

add the suppression of emotion and the need to feel we "have to" act one way from an early age and it may change us a bit or make our first response different from a "typical" girls(which is a myth anyway) but it doesn't mean our brains are not capable of the same results.

even with gray matter white matter what ever different connections formed and sizes of different areas we are still capable of understanding each other if we use RATIONAL THOUGHT, SYMPATHY and EMPATHY rather than falling back on things like "you're just different so you will never get it"

look at microprocessor design. Big Eden and little Eden are two different ways to store data in memory. simplified one would store the word "this" as "siht" and the other how we would read it. there are vary slight efficacy advantages depending on application but both have over all equal performance for general computing and both in the end put out readable text.

final point, see John T Mannings books that describe how prenatal hormone exposure really creates a whole spectrum of people(and brains) because of differing levels of estrogen and testosterone passed from mother to child.

dont be a victim of self fulling prophecy, it will seriously hinder your interpersonal relationships with the same and other gender.

rdlang05 profile image

rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota Author


Thanks for your thoughts. I'm not 100% sure about what your saying. I don't believe that everyone fits these molds exactly, but I do believe that in general each gender fits relatively well. I also believe that men and women were made with specific differences for certain reasons. I'm also not a conservative.

Sara 4 years ago

John, I understand exactly what you are saying and agree with you completely. And yes: "it will seriously hinder your interpersonal relationships with the same and other gender." Thank you!!

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