Friday, December 6, 2013

Male and Female Brains

A recent scientific study charted the way that male and female brains work.  If you're looking at a brain from a bird's eye view, the nerve connections in male brains are more vertical, whereas the nerve connections in female brains are more horizontal.  As a result, women are better at doing things which require both brain hemispheres (like emotional recognition), while men are better at doing things which focus on one brain hemisphere (like picturing 3D models).

Some of my friends overreacted to this news story.  They say it is an attack on feminism, because it shows that men and women aren't 100% the same.  Other friends of mine thought it was humorous.

I think this topic came up, when I discussed how the Catholic Church doesn't have the power to confer priesthood on women.  Men and women should be treated equally, but that doesn't change the fact that men and women are different from each other.  People will probably argue about how great the difference between the two genders is, for a long time to come.

Thoughts on the new scientific study and the consequences thereof?


Melissa said...

I think people need to understand that no two people are the same: men, women, or whatever. We don't have to be the same to ask to be treated the same.

It's like having two children. They're not the same, they may not even have much in common, but it doesn't mean you should treat one better than the other.

That being said, I don't think all the research in the world is going to help men and women understand each other =p

L said...

Males and females are not the same. They are equal but different. I think it's more of an attack on females when people try to say that females are men. It denies who we are, says that we are weaker and not as good if we are not the same as men. And I thought a main point of gender equality was that males and females are just as good as each other.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the study repeated on more than 900-something people, and I'd like to see it repeated on people in varying cultures. It has been my firm belief for quite a while that since there is significant neuro-plasticity in *everyone's* brain, that the gender differences are primarily because of the difference in which the genders are treated - especially during and after adolescence. Scan female engineers and male artists. Scan many, many, many more people.

I am a female who has a VERY typical MALE brain. I was badgered, bullied, and humiliated as a teen as a result, for daring to like and excel at science, math, and engineering tasks (putting things together/taking things apart by diagrams). This included the other ADULTS in my life - even my pastor. I only persevered because my parents encouraged me to, helped me in those pursuits at home, and gave me the strength to tell my naysayers that God gave me THIS talent and to go screw off.

The pressure for a teenaged girl to give up science and math pursuits in favor of things seen as more "girly" is immense. I was told I'm "trying to be a man," that I was an "abomination to God," that I needed "psychiatric help so [I] could be a real woman," that "I'll never find any man willing to have me," that I "ask too many questions for a girl" and that I needed to let the "men think for me" because THEY had "brains that can comprehend that sort of thing" that I'm the reason humanity is going to hell and all sorts of other incredibly hurtful things to tell a teenage girl. I was even once told I should never have been born - all because I enjoy and am talented at traditionally male pursuits. [Bitter? Me? Absolutely. It ruined my relationship with church (for good) and God (for a long, long time) and I eventually became suicidal because of it.]

That goes for boys as well. Boys are told they are supposed to be better at science/math/sports than girls, and are pressured to give up "girly" pursuits like art, music, and writing. When one changes what s/he focuses on, the brain will adapt and rewire itself to support that.

I have zero "intuition" (and any scientific study that uses such terminology makes me incredibly skeptical). I would make a terrible mother, even my parents acknowledge that, and at least I'm self aware enough to realize that (I mention this because the article notes that is a probable reason for the differences). I've known many men who are more "feminine" than I am. I've known many women who are very similar to me. So while I (and the people I know) might be an exception to the rule, I think that it is just much more fluid than most people will let themselves believe.

Anonymous said...

I’ll answer your question by telling other story first.

I live in Virginia, and my family has since the late 1600s. When my ancestors first arrived, unlike most of the other English settlers, they did not want to take the land from the Natives, so my family has been good terms with the local Natives for centuries to come.

One family I’m friends with, a Monacan family, has a son that’s about my age. He rarely ventures past his Monacan community, (it’s not a reservation, just a group of Monacans will live together), and I am one of the few white people allowed into this community. I grew up with this and didn’t think it was abnormal at the time.

One day though, I asked him why he mostly stays in his community, and why I am one of the few whites allowed in. He told me, without meaning to offend me, that he doesn’t trust white people. He said he knows that not all white people are bad, as evident by family having fought for the Natives against land grabbing Europeans, but historically, he can’t take that risk anymore. They’ve been burned so many times, there’s always going to be that underlying layer of mistrust.

Likewise, to get back to your original question, I feel maybe that’s the same for women. If we can honest, historically, the United States is not the beacon of moral justice and human rights we tell the world we are. We had a sterilization and eugenics program even before Nazi Germany did, a program that targeted poor and racially minority women that men felt should not be breeding. Their voting rights aren’t even 100 years old in the country. Women used to not be able to hold jobs outside the home, and now that they can, they still don’t get paid the same wage as a man for doing the same job. In order to financially survive, they had to get married, regardless of it they wanted to or not. If they were pregnant, they had to give birth, regardless of if they wanted to or not. There was absolutely no right over their own lives, or even their bodies. Everything about their lives was micromanaged by men, (either their father or their husband.)

So, when studies like this come out, I think maybe, like my Monacan friend, women are suspicious and mistrustful, like this is yet another vehicle that will be used to oppress them again. I think men and women are different, but should be treated the same. However, they haven’t. Their differences have been used to subjugate women, and I think it’s something we as men, need to understand from their point of view.

Anonymous said...

Nobody understands.....

Anonymous said...

To the Anon at 10:07 ... you are completely missing the point and skewing the implications of the study.

Alexandra Winner said...

My thoughts exactly Old Sport. also I just love to see psychology and catholic ideas together. insane awesomeness! I encourage you!

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 2:37:

Exactly how is the point being missed or skewed? The clear implication of the study is saying that _female_ brains are different than _male_ brains, full stop. That does not allow for variances. Nor does it allow for the very well documented phenomena of neuroelasticity/neuroplasticity, or in lay man's terms "brain training." It was also only 949 people from _one_ culture, out of 7+ billion and many cultures on the planet.

Furthermore, the study's conclusions are what is actually skewed: Since the differences do NOT begin until _after_ adolescence, then it cannot be an _inborn_ difference. That means that something _causes_ the difference. While the researchers _presumed_ hormones cause the difference, that could be a flawed presumption. Puberty (and the hormone flood that comes with it) hits at incredibly diverse ages, from as young as 9/10 (and they scanned 9 year olds and found no difference) to as old as 18-19. But the pressure to conform to your gender expectations ramps up as soon as a person hits tween/teen years. It is far easier for most people to assimilate and give up than to reject societal pressure and become an outcast. I also would like to see brain scans of people of both genders who have non-gender-traditional careers. I would bet money those scans would not conform to expectations.

Anonymous said...

"Since the differences do NOT begin until _after_ adolescence, then it cannot be an _inborn_ difference"

That's ... a totally inaccurate argument. Not all genes manifest immediately. I'm not saying is IS inborn, I'm just saying there's no reason it CAN'T be inborn just because those differences aren't seen until adolescence. Puberty itself defines this. Secondary and tertiary sexual characteristics don't manifest until puberty, but they're very much hard-wired into genes. Some diseases are inborn but don't manifest until later.

And I'm not saying this study is perfect. It's flawed, as you said. You may even be right that it's just due to social conditioning. But it is not necessarily so, and even if it isn't - stating that there is a difference doesn't imply that there is an inherent hierarchy.

"It is far easier for most people to assimilate and give up than to reject societal pressure and become an outcast."

This isn't about gender. It's about sex. Biology. A girl might be the biggest tomboy, but the average guy is probably going to be stronger than her. That doesn't mean that the tomboy is weak.

Anonymous said...

"This isn't about gender. It's about sex. Biology. A girl might be the biggest tomboy, but the average guy is probably going to be stronger than her. That doesn't mean that the tomboy is weak. "

Muscle mass (primarily defined from the amount of testosterone in a system and use) and brains (primarily defined by use alone) are completely different systems though. So it very much is about gender and not sex, although I do appreciate that you don't conflate the two.

When I said that it cannot be an _inborn_ difference because it doesn't show up until after adolescence, you missed the second part of that. Adolescence age is not equivalent with puberty. If it was a function of puberty/hormones/genes (inborn) then the differences would either A) show up from the onset of cognitive abilities, or B)start to show up upon the start of puberty, and they didn't. _After_ adolescence is when they finally saw the full changes. _After_ adolescence is well beyond the completion of puberty for most people, although that varies by age, heritage, diet and weight. Statistically speaking, if the ages were equally represented, there should have been at least 18 of the 9 year old girls in gonadarche, so if it were inborn/puberty related, there should have been signs by that age, when the researchers said there weren't. Slightly fewer 9 year old boys should have started the hormonal changes, but there still should be enough to start making distinctions if it is solely because of hormones/gender.

(As a note, I also have problems with them ending the study at age 22 as well, as that is the age that most people will go forth and make their own life and start jobs that require multiple areas of skills. In addition, the age of 25ish is the age of full psychological maturity and when people are finally less susceptible to peer influence. I suspect going up to age 35-40, or even older, would also reduce the differences between the genders' brains.)

If it was inborn and immutable, then it would also contradict every neuroplasticity study done since the 1950s. There is a significant amount of data on the subject, including from amputees (phantom pain), stroke victims, head trauma patients, etc. The brain can and does link up new neural pathways dependent upon what cognitive abilities are being stressed and trained at the time. There is one study in which congenitally blind persons were able to form the ability to "see" with their other senses (primarily touch).

If it was solely up to hormones/gender alone, then transgender people would immediately start to switch personalities, cognitive strengths, and abilities upon receiving hormone supplements and surgery... and they just don't.

I have nothing against saying that men biologically have more muscle mass than women, or that women biologically can carry a pregnancy while men cannot. There are document-able differences between the sexes.

I have _every_ problem with saying that all women's brains are A, good at L and not good at M, while all men's brains are B, good at N and not good at O, and that is that.

As an aside: I do appreciate the civility of your debate with me. Far too many people end up ranting and slinging around insults.

leaktattle said...

Top 10 Differences Between Male and Female Brains

Although many individuals are shown that distinctions in male and female conduct are exclusively because of culture, science recommends an biological basis for large portions of these distinctions. In spite of the fact that these distinctions are not total, they have a tendency to skew as indicated by one’s sex.