Shooting the Gender Difference Messenger
There has been a lot of press the last few days about a study that said male and female brains are “wired” differently. (See Brain connectivity study reveals striking differences between men and women for example.) To grossly over-simply, the study found that male brains have more “front to back” than “side to side” connections, while women have more “side to side” connections.
What I find even more interesting than the study is all the folks who are trying to explain away or down play this gender based difference. For instance, on her blog, Cordelia Fine said:
One important possibility the authors don’t consider is that their results have more to do with brain size than brain sex. Male brains are, on average, larger than females and a large brain is not simply a smaller brain scaled up. ..there may physical reasons for different arrangements in differently sized brains. The results may reflect the different wiring solutions of larger versus smaller brains, rather than sex differences per se.
She is right that men “on average” have larger brains. However, previous research has shown that if a man and woman are the same size, the man’s brain is still likely larger*. Gender causes male brains to be larger, so the findings are about gender even if brain size is a factor.
Another critic said, “Brain connections change throughout life.” Again, the statement is true, but how does it bring the findings into question? The study does show changes in connects as children grow. There are few gender-based differences prior to puberty, then the sexes diverge greatly. The oldest study participants were 22, so we cannot say for certain that these differences continue for the rest of life, but there are no good reason to think there would be significant changes prior to menopause.
I suspect the reason some are upset is that the researchers said, “Overall, the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.” There are those who desperately want men and women to be the same other than for a few minor differences related to reproduction. Any study that shows that to be wrong must be attacked! Mz. Fine complained that the researchers were “reinforcing and legitimating gender stereotypes in ways that are not scientifically justified.” However, the study was a subset of a larger study that tested subjects to see how they did on various tasks. While males did better on spatial processing and sensorimotor speed, females did better than on tests of attention, word and face memory, and social cognition. The gender differences found in “wiring” fit nicely with differences seen in the aptitude tests. I would hardly call that scientifically unjustified gender stereotypes!
Bottom Line: Much of the media, and even some scientists, wants to ignore or discredit real differences in men and women. The truth is God made us male and female, and while we are co-heirs in Jesus, we are not the same!
* Larger does not mean better or smarter. Also, it’s not as simple as “bigger” – men and women have different rations of gray and white brain matter, and different amounts of each in many areas of the brain. There are many differences in male and female brains.
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