Friday, August 27, 2010

It's all in the mind, or is it all in the brain?

This is a NY Times review of a book about differences in the brains of males and females called Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine, an English cognitive neuroscientist.

Her summary: “Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills.”
I'm confused. I'm happy to believe that there are no differences in the brains of men and women not directly related to attracting men vs attracting women, because it fits my liberal prejudices so well. 

And it's easy to believe that a previous generation of scientists believed something that grew out of their own prejudices and that has become an urban myth.

She apparently dismantles some studies showing sex differences, but I thought there were lots and lots of studies that showed different behaviors among men and women. Okay, these could be learned, even by the time they're toddlers, and most studies are done on college students. But how about the studies showing men navigate using vectors and women using landmarks? Is the use of landmarks something we teach girls at the same time we tell them they are not good at math? 

And the study of the frontal lobe of the hypothalamus, which I'm pretty sure I think I remember is bigger in boys and men than in girls and women, both in number of cells and size of cells, and somewhere in between for gay men, which mediates sex drive in rats. Did that study turn out to be flawed?

I'm sitting here looking at the clock, thinking I have to get ready to go to work, and my mind is whirling with vague recollections of studies I've read about showing differences, both physiological and behavioral.

She seems to be saying that's all either wrong or cultural (sort of a cultural epigenetics, where what happens to you changes your brain). I guess I have to read the book.


  1. An English cognitive neuroscientist named Cordelia Fine, who has proved there are no gender differences in the human brain, has rented a cottage in northern Cyprus to edit the galleys of her latest bookv-- but first, she is forced to share a taxi from the airport with Hudson Broot, a former linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, who has flown in to Kyrenia from Vegas to compete in a World Poker Tour tournament. Gender differences abound in this screwball love story...

  2. As Johnson said of Berkeley's theory, "I refute it thus" (kicking a stone).