There are only a few days left of June, and only a few days to buy a copy of the magazine Scientific American.
This month, the entire issue is devoted to female and male brains and how (and how not) they are different.
This is brilliant news. In recent months, I have spent a fair amount of time debating (on this blog and elsewhere) with people who justify sexism on the grounds that men and women are innately different.
For example, the myths go like this:
- women prefer caring and nurturing jobs (which happen to be lower paid)
- men prefer jobs in which they can use skills of logic and leadership (which happen to higher paid)
- men prefer to be politicians and leaders – it’s in their DNA
- men are naturally aggressive; therefore they cannot help being violent towards women
Lise Eliot, an associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Frankin University, unpicks these misconceptions and many others – such as the one that states women speak three times as much as men, and that girls are better at empathy than boys.
Her three main points are as follows:
- Boys and girls are different, but most psychological sex differences are not especially large. For example, gaps in intellectual performance, empathy and even most types of aggression are generally much narrower than the disparity in adult height, in which the average man is taller than 99 per cent of women.
- Researchers have found very few large-scale difference between boys and girls in brain structure or function. Boys have larger brains, and girls’ brains finish growing earlier than boys’ do. But neither of these findings explains why boys are more active and girls more verbal or reveals a plausible basis of any of the other emotional and cognitive differences between the sexes.
- Experience itself changes brain structure and function. Most sex differences start out small – as mere biases in temperament and play style – but are amplified as children’s pink- or blue-tinted brains meet our gender-infused culture.