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SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAIN: Men and women display patterns of behavioral and cognitive differences that reflect varying hormonal influences on brain development
May 21, 2002 9:34 AM   Subscribe

SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAIN: Men and women display patterns of behavioral and cognitive differences that reflect varying hormonal influences on brain development Sugar and spice versus snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Or was it masculinizing androgens 'organizing' behaviour at critical periods? At least now there is a scientific explanation of why my girlfriend beats me while watching Pat spin the wheel.
posted by srboisvert (9 comments total)

 
The empirical results are interesting but as always the evolutionary explanations bother me. They strike me as post-hoc oversimplifications of the cognitive requirements of the various tasks required by oversimplified and possibly incorrect gender roles. But then my brain was soaked in androgen. [end editorial]
posted by srboisvert at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2002


As with all studies of this type, I wonder how much generalizations of this sort are worth. Individual differences between individual men and women are totally ignored when we get reports of the "men do this.... and women do this..." variety. Even if it is true that men statistically do better than women, or vice versa, at some task, this does not mean that all men are better at it than all women. I suspect that individual variations within either gender are greater than the differences in the averages between the genders. But the experiments are never devised in order to measure such things, because of the preconceived ideas that innate differences between genders are what's important.
You can see this in the overall tone of the article. Note the start of the article:
Men and women differ not only in their physical attributes and reproductive function but also in many other characteristics, including the way they solve intellectual problems. For the past few decades, it has been ideologically fashionable to insist that these behavioral differences are minimal and are the consequence of variations in experience during development before and after adolescence. Evidence accumulated more recently, however, suggests that the effects of sex hormones on brain organization occur so early in life that from the start the environment is acting on differently wired brains in boys and girls.
Now, this is nothing more than setting up a straw man. In recent years, if anything, it has been "ideologically fashionable" to insist that gender behavioral differences are innate; we see this in both the scientific and popular press ad nauseam. But each of these articles begins with the mantra that the research is going against the "fashion" of gender equality. This is done in order to give the aura of truth to studies that in fact are severly limited by their own ideological blinders and narrow unquestioned presuppositions.
posted by Rebis at 9:45 AM on May 21, 2002


But the experiments are never devised in order to measure such things, because of the preconceived ideas that innate differences between genders are what's important.

The variability between groups and within groups is almost always reported (it would only be missing if reviewers were really lazy). The link is a sci-am review of mostly peer-reviewed research and if you look at the actual journal articles there will always be means and standard deviations reported. They might not emphasize intragroup variability over intergroup variability but the data will likely be there.

I do agree with your observation of the underdog posturing though (reminds me of the skeptical environmentalist - by Bjorn Lomborg).
posted by srboisvert at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2002


...there is a scientific explanation of why my girlfriend beats me while watching Pat spin the wheel...

Because you're the sub in a BDSM relationship?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:29 AM on May 21, 2002


All I gotta say is...vive le difference!

But really, if you've ever spent any time watching preschool kids playing in a playground, it's pretty obvious that boys & girls are wired differently, or have slightly different software.
posted by groundhog at 11:23 AM on May 21, 2002


f.f.f.: Because you're the sub in a BDSM relationship?

Probably, but only in the most metaphorical way. She 'beats' me at wheel of fortune with stunning regularity, despite the fact that I have the higher verbal component GRE score and trounce her in trivial pursuit. Now I have an excuse since my brain was apparently soaked in androgen.

(I am counting on metafilter giving me an even greater trivia edge!).

As an interesting bit of trivia, I worked in the lab next to the Kimura lab when I was at the University of Western Ontario. She had a reputation as being a dragon lady and only graduated one phd during her entire tenure at UWO. However, I found her to be quite nice, a bit strict with her students, but very generous with the rum and egg-nog around x-mas. She also had a full length axel rose poster on the inside of her office door (which i consider strange for an academic, particularly one who is probably closing in on ~70 yrs old by now).
posted by srboisvert at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2002


I suggest that this thread tread is used as a good excuse to favour male-female interaction ; after all it will give our androgen soaked brain a shine of intellectual knowledge which fascinates girls as much as anything that shines. Now that's science in action !
posted by elpapacito at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2002


that males are more aggressive than females ... and that females are more nurturing.

Since 'aggressive' has both negative and positive connotations while 'nuturing' has only positive, I always prefer to use the more equally balanced terms, 'aggressive' and 'deceptive', and use the protective bird parent metaphor of the male attacking the threat and the female feigning injury to divert the threat from the chicks.
posted by HTuttle at 4:00 PM on May 21, 2002


Since 'aggressive' has both negative and positive connotations while 'nuturing' has only positive,

Aggressive has positive connotations - bravery, taking charge, ambition, go-getter, motivated, etc are all related to being aggressive. Being aggressive towards other people has mostly negative connotations because it implies a simple minded approach of just trying to beat someone, rather than trying to understand them - but in cases of threat this approach is generally useful.

I always prefer to use the more equally balanced terms, 'aggressive' and 'deceptive',

If you think "nurturing" and "deceptive" are synonyms, you really are missing something about human interactions.

The article is interesting though I'm not sure why we need statistics on how groups of people do; it only enforces stereotypes.
posted by mdn at 8:10 PM on May 22, 2002


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