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March 25, 2010 11:02 AM   Subscribe

This article, about differences between male and female brains, is doing the rounds on various blogs. (I found it via reddit.) Meanwhile, debunkers are doing their best to rip the author a new asshole.
posted by grumblebee (86 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would like someone to do one of these articles whose credibility is not already shit.

I'm ready to believe there are important brain differences between men and women, but I don't want to learn about them from someone who's making shit up to get on Oprah.
posted by grobstein at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


yeah, I read this article earlier today on CNN, and was pretty appalled by the whole thing. My favorite quote, about testosterone in men, "This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex."

this is why I, like every other gay man, cannot produce any. Wait, what?
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 11:11 AM on March 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I had exactly the same disappointment. I was initially really excited, because I thought I was going to learn what the latest research said about the brain differences. Then, as I read, I started feeling a twang of doubt. (For one thing: sources????)

Them I started reading all the rebuttals, and I got really disgusted. We really, really, really don't need bullshit "science" about such a touchy subject. We desperately need REAL science. Shame on CNN!
posted by grumblebee at 11:12 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Louann Brizendine.

RFT.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:15 AM on March 25, 2010


this is why I, like every other gay man, cannot produce any. Wait, what?

Even we straight men have a few thoughts each day that aren't about women. Seriously, while I was writing Actionscript code this morning, I didn't have a single thought about breasts. Same for when I was riding the subway, deeply involved in a book about early American history.
posted by grumblebee at 11:15 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Louann Brizendine.

Some of those "opinions" were clearly trying on their fact costumes.
posted by grumblebee at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


I don't even need a rebuttal to see how ridiculous this article is:

For example: "Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 200 to 250 percent more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence. "

What. So she compared men and women, and then continues her point by comparing... pre-pubescent boys with boys in puberty? Didn't anyone proof-read this?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:17 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Solon and Thanks, I disagree with you. IF we really found a "sexual pursuit" area of the brain, and IF we really found that it was larger in men than in women, that would be an important finding, even if it wouldn't overturn most people's expectations.

It would be important, because we'd know that males "act that way," due to nature, not nurture.

And we'd know that if, as a culture, we want to somehow respond to such behavior (in a negative, positive or mixed way), we'd have to tailor our responses to the fact that this brain region exists. We'd also start throwing research money at treating damages to this region of the brain, which might help men who feel that they are undersexed and curb the appetites of "sex addicts."
posted by grumblebee at 11:25 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aargh. Articles like these are the biggest argument in favour of the "meta-layer" thingy that google and others have tried to introduce, allowing people to share comments on any given web page. Because the only people that are going to see the refutations are the people who're naturally inclined to go looking for (or follow links to) skeptic/science websites. And these people aren't really the target audience anyway.

As a side note, having seen the disparity between what scientists say to journalists and what actually gets published, I'm willing to give her a little benefit of the doubt. Not much, because there's a lot of text that she seems to have written herself (as opposed to an interview transcribed by a journo), but we can't know how much CNN have "spiced it up" (i.e. lied about her views) to make it more entertaining.

grobstein - Prof. Richard Wiseman writes good books about neurobiology/psychology, and the University where he's a professor actually exists. Ditto Prof. Lord Robert Winston and Prof Ramachandran. I can't point to a specific text by any of them, but they're all very credible (accredited by respected universities) and I've enjoyed books by all of them.
posted by metaBugs at 11:26 AM on March 25, 2010


Because the only people that are going to see the refutations are the people who're naturally inclined to go looking for (or follow links to) skeptic/science websites.

Yes. How many times, now, am I going to have to listen to people say, "Well, that's because men have a bigger sexual pursuit area"?
posted by grumblebee at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


On failure to preview: OK then, the book itself really is that bad? Fair enough then, I retract my wishy-washiness.
posted by metaBugs at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


She's been in the blue before. At that time I made this comment. Now it's eight years since she had a published article. She is no expert, she is just a hack selling books that fit into some people's prejudices. From the excerpts I've read, she is a god-awful writer.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


You can always count on Language Log to smack this bullshit down hard, and brilliantly. Their systematic, meticulous and often hilarious takedown of Leonard Sax, David Brooks, their cohorts, and the "emerging science of gender difference" is breathtaking stuff. Just work your way through the links on this page and marvel.
posted by Shepherd at 11:38 AM on March 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


None of this really matters. None! In the end, we all have spicy brains, fodder from the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Maybe some brains will be spicier than others, but it won't matter. It won't matter! The appetite of the zombies is insatiable! Have you ever seen a content zombie? No! We're already doomed!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Solon and Thanks, I disagree with you. IF we really found a "sexual pursuit" area of the brain, and IF we really found that it was larger in men than in women, that would be an important finding, even if it wouldn't overturn most people's expectations.

I think you misunderstood what I was talking about. I agree that would be important.

I was talking about how the article jumped from talking about "a sexual pursuit area of the brain" to "not only are men and women different, but after going through puberty, boys produce more testosterone than before puberty!" which seemed like a non sequitur/comparing apples and oranges.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:57 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose the most rewarding thing about written to folk presuppositions is that the lion's share of the book's readers will award it the gold-standard of popular credulity: "Well, that certainly rings true! I've always known it in my gut, but now science do."

Facepalm. The. Size. Of. Detroit.
posted by Construction Concern at 11:57 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seems to me that all that testosterone, "trance state", uncontrollable glazed eye reactions to nearby women, and that huge "sexual pursuit area" in the male brain-- which obviously squeezes out the "logic circuits" or, as I like to call them, the "circuit breakers"-- render men hormonally unfit for higher office and advanced education, as they can't be trusted to complete a single thought without drifting off into sexual reverie.

(yes, hamburger, in case anybody was wondering)
posted by jokeefe at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


eek who let teh sheepdogs out?
posted by infini at 12:04 PM on March 25, 2010


Sorry I misunderstood, Salon.
posted by grumblebee at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2010


ok boss what's up? are you around in early october?
posted by infini at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Actually, I think my favourite part of the article was how men are far more territorial than women, cause of those brain circuit thingees (I had no idea that my brain was made up of resistors and solder, but never mind) and yet it's women who are hyper vigilant to any signs that their mate might be interested in someone else. Because of her... non-territorial brain circuits?
posted by jokeefe at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Men look at attractive women the way we look at pretty butterflies.

At least it's funny.
posted by Scoo at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


My sexual pursuit areas and my butterfly appreciation areas are all confused together now. This is how The Monarch got his start in super-villainy.
posted by Babblesort at 12:08 PM on March 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


i keep snorting myself silly alone at times at odd hours of the day. oh look, it was wednesday
posted by infini at 12:09 PM on March 25, 2010


Well, jokeefe, I think the idea is actually that men feel more threatened by being in competition with other men for women's affections than women feel threatened by being in competetion with men for women's affections.

Do you ever get upset about all the men competing with you for hot chicks?

QED!
posted by grumblebee at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If anyone would like to read a legitimate article that reviews research into sex differences in the human brain and the importance of recognizing those differences, I recommend the following:

Cahill, L. (June 2006). Why sex matters for neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 477–484.

The link above is to the abstract. Unfortunately, the article is published in a (scientific!) journal that does not allow free access to full text. However, if you have access to it, I highly recommend it.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2010


i meant really laughing out loud. and not being able to LOL about it
posted by infini at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2010


I wish I could say that men can stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they can't. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates.
...and just so it is to this day, O Best Beloved, that all men Just Can't Help Themselves.
posted by bonehead at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Do you ever get upset about all the men competing with you for hot chicks?

Actually, I do, kind of. [/has a case of teh ghey]
posted by jokeefe at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


None of this really matters.

Unless maybe you're looking for a money manager
posted by IndigoJones at 12:13 PM on March 25, 2010


needs more tags. recommendations:

SCIENCE!!

also:

*facepalm*
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2010


If you took out the *bad* science, that read like something out of a 1958 edition of Good Housekeeping.

It's the 'wtf, where are the editors?' articles like this that make me think we should vet people before giving them their full rights of free speech I keed I keed, but it is genuinely unfortunate that a whole shit load of people will read this article, find it very interesting, bring it up at the dinner table, and then we get things like the tea party movement.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


infini, are you, perchance, partaking of the weed today?

jokeefe, I'm so generous, that I'll share my hot chick with you. See, everybody wins.
posted by grumblebee at 12:21 PM on March 25, 2010


she'll emit pheromones that will waft into his nostrils, stimulating his brain to make more of a hormone called prolactin... These hormonal changes make him more likely to help with the baby.

I must have had a cold when these pheromones were wafting around my house.
posted by digsrus at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a side note, having seen the disparity between what scientists say to journalists and what actually gets published, I'm willing to give her a little benefit of the doubt. Not much, because there's a lot of text that she seems to have written herself (as opposed to an interview transcribed by a journo), but we can't know how much CNN have "spiced it up" (i.e. lied about her views) to make it more entertaining.

She's the author of a popular book from a couple years back, so I don't think this can get her off the hook.
posted by grobstein at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2010


If testosterone were beer

what - we could synthesis our own buzz? sounds antisocial.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:26 PM on March 25, 2010


If anyone would like to read a legitimate article that reviews research into sex differences in the human brain and the importance of recognizing those differences, I recommend the following:

Cahill, L. (June 2006). Why sex matters for neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 477–484.

The link above is to the abstract. Unfortunately, the article is published in a (scientific!) journal that does not allow free access to full text.


It's up on sinica.edu here (8-page pdf).
posted by cashman at 12:28 PM on March 25, 2010


what if I keep expecting my head to asplode but it doesn't? odd that
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on March 25, 2010


If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day.

That analogy confuses me. Surely non one produces TWO GALLONS of testosterone a day.

Is she saying a nine-year-old produces so little testosterone, that if testosterone were beer, it would only get you as drunk as you'd be if you drank a cup of it? Whereas 15-year-olds are so "drunk" on testosterone, that if you translate the effect of that into the effect of alcohol, you'd have to drink two gallons of beer to get that drunk?

And is she talking about getting a nine-year-old drunk or a 15-year-old drunk?
posted by grumblebee at 12:32 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Damn. I spent 3 years in one of my post-docs studying sex differences in the (rat) brain. Reading this kind of makes me die inside. This is a terribly written article. It reads like a freshman summarizing a science writer's take on a lighthearted review article. Not something written by someone who is supposed to be, you know, scientific about these things.

(also, "neuronal circuitry" is common jargon for nerve networks. Just because it means something else doesn't mean the word can't be co-opted.)
posted by gaspode at 12:33 PM on March 25, 2010


jokeefe, I'm so generous, that I'll share my hot chick with you. See, everybody wins.

Aw, that's sweet grumblebee. I did exaggerate for effect, though; I don't really feel like I'm competing with men for hot chicks, even a little bit, in case anyone thought so.
posted by jokeefe at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2010


We didn't really think so, but we had hopes. Now they are dashed.
posted by grumblebee at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2010


(also, "neuronal circuitry" is common jargon for nerve networks. Just because it means something else doesn't mean the word can't be co-opted.)

It's not even a metaphor, is it? Neutrons use electricity to communicate, right? So isn't it just descriptive to say that they form a circuit?
posted by grumblebee at 12:50 PM on March 25, 2010


Or NEURONS even.
posted by grumblebee at 12:50 PM on March 25, 2010


It's not even a metaphor, is it? Neutrons use electricity to communicate, right? So isn't it just descriptive to say that they form a circuit?

True enough, which sends us right back to metaphors of human nature and the body that were common around the beginning of the 19th century-- hence Frankenstein. Now we've moved from electricity to the computer being the standard metaphor for how brains work, and it's about as accurate a representation as the one about currents and phlogiston and stuff.
posted by jokeefe at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We didn't really think so, but we had hopes. Now they are dashed.

Aw. I could be competing for a hot chick right now! It's possible!
posted by jokeefe at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2010


We don't care about "possible." We want photographs. Or, better yet, videos.
posted by grumblebee at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2010


Well yeah. But it's not everybody's go-to thought when one thinks "circuit". I personally don't like it because I think of a circuit as being something containing resisters and diodes and the like, in a closed kind of system, when a better analogy for the brain is probably something like the internet. Or I dunno. I never had to make analogies when I was a scientist - I never wrote for non-scientists.
posted by gaspode at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2010


Yeah yeah, men are from Mars, women are from Xoth.
posted by JHarris at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2010


Or see what jokeefe wrote.
posted by gaspode at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2010


I can write an scientific article about the differences between men and women. I just need:
  1. Red brick wall
  2. Microphone
  3. Spotlight
  4. two-drink minimum
The ladies know what I'm talkin' about.
posted by condour75 at 1:02 PM on March 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think that, in the area of differences between men and women, I likely have more experience than most since I have been both and have lived about equal amounts of time as either.. Since, the comments indicate that the author of the original article is a hack I am not even going to read TFA but I will chime in on my own personal experience for what that is worth.

I am aware that my experience is quite different than the norm and what the heck my brain is or was can be argued either way. I'm just relaying the experience as it was for me and going to make a layperson's guess on a related issue.

I do know that, after years of hormone replacement, my thought patterns changed in very significant ways. Most of the effects were noticeable within months. Here are a few of the most significant that I recall:

1. I began to think about sex a lot less. The urge towards sexual arousal also became less. The feeling or orgasm changed as well (even when I was pre-op) . Certain parts of my body became far more sensitive to arousal such as the back of my neck and other areas.

2. I became more sensitive to senses of smell. I began to notice smells, particularly body smells, that I had not noticed before.

3. I became less confrontational towards others when issues of conflict arose. More centered and less worried about injury towards me.

4. I noticed an enhanced awareness to colors .

5. Before I was always interested in pure science , afterward I became more interested in the liberal arts as well .

6. I found myself more focused attention wise . Whereas before all my fiction reading centered on short stories, I gained an interest in longer works and began reading novels more.

Well that's all I recall - some or all of this may be due to hormonal influence on the brain. It seems possible. If so, then it's also possible that early hormonal influence re-wires certain areas of the brain somewhat.

A great study would be to MRI the brains of pre-hormonal transexuals and track them over a period of some years well past the time they made the hormonal changes and see what changes, if any occurred. For various sociological reasons I imagine that such a study remains to be done well into the future.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


With our tiny "sexual pursuit areas", un-attuned "visual brain circuits" and lowly xx chromosome testosterone levels, it's shocking that we women have sex at all! How can we tear our eyes away from these pretty butterflies long enough to mate?
posted by serazin at 1:17 PM on March 25, 2010


Poet_Lariat - I like the idea of your proposed MRI-based study, although I don't understand exactly what an MRI can tell us.
posted by serazin at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2010


Didn't anyone proof-read this?

I imagine somebody was supposed to, until they saw that the submitted article was scrawled onto the paper in human shit.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2010


Pussies. My sexual pursuit area is 4 times the size of the average woman's. I need a special stainless steel briefcase to carry it. And my defend your turf area is the size of four football fields, laid end to end.
posted by rusty at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Methinks this smells of phrenology. "Sexual pursuit area" indeed.
posted by tommasz at 1:46 PM on March 25, 2010


IF we really found a "sexual pursuit" area of the brain, and IF we really found that it was larger in men than in women, that would be an important finding, even if it wouldn't overturn most people's expectations.

It would be important, because we'd know that males "act that way," due to nature, not nurture.


Well, no, we wouldn't know that, unless we were comparing the brains of newborn boys and girls whose brains hadn't been subjected to the effects of nurture.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:58 PM on March 25, 2010


Yes. That was my assumption.
posted by grumblebee at 2:12 PM on March 25, 2010


And even then, you'd have to find the bigger brain region in men of all cultures. Because just finding it in one might mean that it was caused by some sort of prenatal issue special to that culture.
posted by grumblebee at 2:18 PM on March 25, 2010


Ohhhhh boy am I glad this is "research" article is not good....though I have a girlfriend my desire for other women has not waned in the very least......after reading the article I thought to myself "I havent found the ONE!!!", but metafilter came back to straighten things out, yaay!
posted by The1andonly at 2:35 PM on March 25, 2010


I am currently working on a longitudinal fMRI study that measures differences in neural activity to affective facial displays in same vs. opposite sex faces in kids when they're 9-10 and again when they're 11-12.

Are we finding differences? Hell yeah. Are they differences that can be packaged into neat little sound bytes you could write a hack article about that might get you splashed all over the mainstream media? Hell no.

Girls tend to show a greater degree of hippocampal reactivity for sad faces than boys do. There's a difference. It's one that we can actually see pretty cleanly, and it replicates across time points. Do we have any idea what that means? Not yet.

And we sure as fuck don't go running around saying "ooh, hippocampus! It's the memory place! Girls remember sadness better! That must be because women are responsible for bearing the cultural memories of unhappy times so that they can foster our species' growth! It's all so intuitive!"
posted by solipsophistocracy at 2:44 PM on March 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


The scientists have discovered that those who question the results of these studies have an enlarged Being An Ugly Nerd section of their brains

This section can be shrunk by admitting these studies are true

And giving out grant money
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:51 PM on March 25, 2010


Sometimes I wish I had gone to grad school so I could repackage people's existing beliefs in academic terminology, and people would pay me oodles of money just for being an "expert" and reinforcing their points of view.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:55 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to reiterate Shepherd's point:

Language Log has done some pretty thorough takedowns specifically focused on Brizendine's book. There are a lot of really egregious errors and misinterpretations, and a lot of citations where her claims are either unrelated to the article cited or not supported by the evidence in the cited article. The folks at Language Log focus on communication-related stuff (e.g. the claim that women talk more, or have more "communication events" per day than men do,) but they address some of her other claims as well. I really wouldn't trust anything Brizendine says on this topic to accurately reflect the current scientific evidence at all.

Whatever the reality of gender differences is, a lot of the claims we see in the media are dubious at best, and a lot of the actual research is really contradictory, or is of unknown significance. (Plus, of course, there's the ever present question of how much a given trait or behavior is caused/influenced by society, environment, etc.) Science is hard, and not well-suited to media-friendly sound bites.
posted by ubersturm at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well that's all I recall - some or all of this may be due to hormonal influence on the brain.

It could. Some or all of this could also be due to confirmation bias, reduced psychological pressure and stress upon being able to live in your preferred gender, or your conscious or unconscious work to adopt some of the dominant norms of your new gender role.

Hard to say.
posted by Miko at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does the book mention Shatner's Bassoon?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:10 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


First thought upon opening the CNN article link:
Debra Messing wrote a book?
posted by NikitaNikita at 4:33 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Small point, but neural networks do not operate on the basis of electrical conductivity, and are only a circuit as a chain of dominoes are a circuit. The synaptic gap is not jumped by an arc of lightning (I am visualizing the opening of fightclub here), but rather is filled with variable quantities of messenger neurotransmitters. The circuit metaphor has explanatory value but remains a metaphor, and as such, false. Carry on thrashing this pseudoscience trash.
posted by kaspen at 5:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for clarifying, kaspen. Sorry I added yet more pseudoscience to the world.
posted by grumblebee at 5:24 PM on March 25, 2010


Her man-brain book has a picture on the cover of a wad of duct tape in roughly the shape of a brain. Her lady-brain book has a picture of a similarly wadded up phone cord. I don't even have the energy to mock it.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:31 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever the reality of gender differences is, a lot of the claims we see in the media are dubious at best, and a lot of the actual research is really contradictory, or is of unknown significance. [. . .] Science is hard, and not well-suited to media-friendly sound bites.

If you think the media folks do a shitty job trying to discuss brain and brain-gender science, you ought to see what a total clusterfuck it becomes in the hands of EdDs. I went to a "What the Latest Brain Research Tells Us About Gender and Learning" presentation by a guy from the good ol' College of Education on my campus a couple of years ago, and it's hard to imagine a more revolting experience. Just a steaming pile of absolute ridiculous vague sweeping unsupported buzzword-filled irresponsible sexist horseshit all tied up with a festive bow of "and be sure to take all this into account as you teach your male and female college students."
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:36 PM on March 25, 2010


Yeah, but she's hot, right? Mmmm, redheads.

hamburger
posted by sharpener at 5:39 PM on March 25, 2010


So, wait. She tells us about this "man-trance," but doesn't tell us anything about how to utilize it.

I mean, I have the equipment, I just need to know how to use it for the forces of evil. Here's the thing. I need robots, like, an army of them. I would like men to build me these robots. How do I send them into this "man-trance" so they will build my goddamn robots?

This article sucks.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:10 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I wish I had gone to grad school so I could repackage people's existing beliefs in academic terminology, and people would pay me oodles of money just for being an "expert" and reinforcing their points of view.

You don't have to go to grad school for that. Going to grad school might be beneficial for calling mofos pulling that brand of "expert" bullshit on the carpet in a way that conforms to the particular set of bullshit-calling standards enforced by the academy, but you're free to call bullshit any time you see it.


Small point, but neural networks do not operate on the basis of electrical conductivity, and are only a circuit as a chain of dominoes are a circuit. The synaptic gap is not jumped by an arc of lightning (I am visualizing the opening of fightclub here), but rather is filled with variable quantities of messenger neurotransmitters. The circuit metaphor has explanatory value but remains a metaphor, and as such, false.


I'm not championing ephaptic transmission here, but to say that the chemical nature of synaptic transmission bars neurons from being parts of a circuit is not quite on the level. The vast majority of synapses in the human CNS are primarily glutamate or GABA, and while chemical messengers carry the signal from one synapse to the other, the content of that message primarily concerns the nature and extent of the resultant post-synaptic potential, an electrical event.

Neurotransmitters sound interesting, and there's a lot of pop-knowledge about how they work, but while the modulatory NTs (e.g., dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin) get all the press, it's our old friend glutamate what does most of the excitin', GABA the inhibitin', and complicated circuits of neurons with mind-boggling numbers of gain functions determining each cell's thousands of electrical relationships that underly most neural events.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:13 PM on March 25, 2010


It's a little pedantic to chastise a non-scientist for not using proper terminology to describe electrochemical communication at the synapse, no?
posted by gaspode at 7:13 PM on March 25, 2010


If you think the media folks do a shitty job trying to discuss brain and brain-gender science, you ought to see what a total clusterfuck it becomes in the hands of EdDs.

I have nightmares about this.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:15 PM on March 25, 2010


It's a little pedantic to chastise a non-scientist for not using proper terminology to describe electrochemical communication at the synapse, no?

Sorry, I wasn't trying to chastise anyone. I just meant to point out that the circuit model is actually quite a helpful one, and much more appropriate for describing the vast majority of synapses than a complicated model based on a milieu of buzzworthy neurotransmitters.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:19 PM on March 25, 2010


Oooh, sorry solipsophistocracy, I thought I had added the quote. I was talking about kaspen, not you.
posted by gaspode at 8:18 PM on March 25, 2010


If you appreciated Poet_Lariat's comment -- and I did -- you might be interested in the This American Life episode about testosterone: all the segments are interesting, but there is a segment from a FTM transsexual that describes a lot of Poet_Lariat's changes in reverse -- way higher sexual urges, interest and understanding of math and science increasing a ton, etc.

I imagine some stuff, especially things like the math/science thing, might make some people irritated or uncomfortable, but it doesn't change the fact of what they've noticed, plus the first part of the show gets into just how much hormone levels vary even among the same gender. We could accept, for example, that increased testosterone seems correlated with increased interest in math and science, but it does not follow that prejudices are reasonable (or helpful) since there are women on par with men in that area anyway and there are men that suck at math -- whether it's completely or heavily or only somewhat determined by hormone levels and genetics is interesting in its own right, but in the face of empirical phenotypes it's irrelevant to whether or not we ought to make assumptions about individuals. Even if higher testosterone makes math easier or more appealing, someone who assumes anything about a person's ability based on their gender is still a simple-minded asshole and the assumption still accomplishes nothing.
posted by Nattie at 1:02 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even we straight men have a few thoughts each day that aren't about women. Seriously, while I was writing Actionscript code this morning, I didn't have a single thought about breasts. Same for when I was riding the subway, deeply involved in a book about early American history.

Oh! What's the book? shapely legs I just started reading Everyday Life In Early America long swanlike neck based on the advice in this thread pert breasts with a light smattering of freckles and it's great; among other things I learned round fulsome hips, I'd had no idea that bullbaiting was carried over to the New World penis in vagina penis in vagina in the seventeenth century.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:11 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait -- I'm a masculine dude who likes women *and* liberal arts.

WHAT SORT OF MONSTER AM I?!!
posted by grubi at 5:43 AM on March 26, 2010


WHAT SORT OF MONSTER AM I?!!

I don't know. But I'm coming to realise that all the men sitting around me in my PR job must have missed out on the testosterone. What the hell are they doing here? Some of them even read and like films.
posted by Summer at 7:11 AM on March 26, 2010


The synaptic gap is not jumped by an arc of lightning...

Speak for yourself. My synaptic gaps have so much lighting arcing through them, they show up on fMRI scans as little Powerthirst commercials.

That's just how it is for women.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:18 AM on March 26, 2010


Small point, but neural networks do not operate on the basis of electrical conductivity, and are only a circuit as a chain of dominoes are a circuit. The synaptic gap is not jumped by an arc of lightning (I am visualizing the opening of fightclub here), but rather is filled with variable quantities of messenger neurotransmitters. The circuit metaphor has explanatory value but remains a metaphor, and as such, false. Carry on thrashing this pseudoscience trash.
posted by kaspen at 7:04 PM on March 25 [+] [!]


To be yet more pedantic, there are some synapses that are electrically, rather than chemically, coupled (given that this was a recent-ish discovery, I'm guessing that the electrically-coupled synapses are more rare). Therefore, the word "circuit" may be literally rather than metaphorically applicable for some small groups of neurons.
posted by Jpfed at 9:23 AM on March 27, 2010


To be yet more pedantic, there are some synapses that are electrically, rather than chemically, coupled (given that this was a recent-ish discovery, I'm guessing that the electrically-coupled synapses are more rare).

Eh, they're super rare, only described in the cerebellum (so far as I know), and pretty effin' complicated as far as I understand (not at all a simple demonstration of electrical vs. electrochemical transmission).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:13 PM on March 28, 2010


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