May 3, 2021

Debunking the female brain vs. male brain myth (and why it is not as easy as it might seem)


Lise Eliot is out with a new interesting article on the idea that the brain is gendered (i.e. different between men and women). She refers to a new meta-study of research on biological research that, as she sees it, shows that there is no difference between male and female brains beyond size.

I am a big fan of Lise Eliot, who is  a Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in the US of A. 

Her book Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps and What We Can Do About It taught me a lot about modern neuroscience, and how some scientists takes a too simplistic approach to how our feeling of being gendered is created.

I would argue, though, that the arguments she makes against this part of neuroscience does not prove that there is no biological component to gender identity and that transgender identities therefore must be purely psychological. More about that below.

Mars vs. Venus

In a new article over at Fast Company she writes:

Everyone knows the difference between male and female brains. One is chatty and a little nervous, but never forgets and takes good care of others. The other is calmer, albeit more impulsive, but can tune out gossip to get the job done.

These are stereotypes, of course, but they hold surprising sway over the way actual brain science is designed and interpreted. Since the dawn of MRI [Magnetic resonance imaging, used for brain scans], neuroscientists have worked ceaselessly to find differences between men’s and women’s brains. This research attracts lots of attention because it’s just so easy to try to link any particular brain finding to some gender difference in behavior.

But as a neuroscientist long experienced in the field, I recently completed a painstaking analysis of 30 years of research on human brain sex differences. And what I found, with the help of excellent collaborators, is that virtually none of these claims has proven reliable.

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