Thursday, December 05, 2013

men are map readers and women are intuitive, but bloggers are fast

Connection-wise analysis for males and females (Ingalhalikar et al., 2013).

Blink and you've missed it! Is the news cycle over already? I've been too busy real-working under my rock.
The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'

A pioneering study has shown for the first time that the brains of men and women are wired up differently which could explain some of the stereotypical differences in male and female behaviour, scientists have said.

Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
. . .

“In women most of the connections go between left and right across the two hemispheres while in men most of the connections go between the front and the back of the brain,” [Ragini Verma] said.

Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks, she added.

“Intuition is thinking without thinking. It's what people call gut feelings. Women tend to be better than men at these kinds of skill which are linked with being good mothers,” Professor Verma said.

Ha, ha, ha! You can't be serious, Professor Verma...

And then we have this gem from the Guardian:
Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal
. . .

Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

"If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there's a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better," Verma said. "Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more."

She added: "I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men." [NOTE: the study population ranged in age from 8 to 22, and I don't think sexual orientation was reported... if we're going to talk stereotypes.]

Within one day of the paper's publication in PNAS (Ingalhalikar et al., 2013), critical blog posts were streaming in to counter the gender stereotypes spouted by the authors themselves. It's the mad new world of rapid-fire post-publication peer review! Trial by Twitter and blog and PubPeer.

I almost feel sorry for the authors, like they've been living in rosy days of yore and weren't aware of the looming backlash, not only to their soundbytes, but to their science.

Although I wasn't able to write a proper post about the paper myself, I suppose I should feel proud that such a community of critics sprang into action on such short notice. PNAS has certainly been target of mine for oh, almost 8 years now...


asking questions about men and women by looking at teenagers

A quick moan about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains

Are men better wired to read maps or is it a tired cliché?

New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?

How social media is transforming scientific debate, on Storify.

Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers

Getting in a Tangle Over Men’s and Women’s Brain Wiring

What's For Breakfast? Fried Girl and Boy Brainz! How Men's And Women's Brains are Dramatically Different And What It All Means.

Discussion at PubPeer

ADDENDUM (Dec 5 2013, 9:45PM)

Brain scans prove there is no difference between male and female brains

We don't have to "wire" our children's brains to reinforce gender stereotypes

So my mushy head is 'hardwired' for girly things, is it? If this is science, I am Richard Dawkins

Extra, Extra! Scientists misunderstand own research!

Study: Male, Female Brains Wired Differently

About that PNAS Article: Journalism and Neurosexism
[Figure 1] is a fascinating example of a series of ontological, technological, and statistical translations leading to a 'wiring diagram', i.e. an ostensibly metaphoric image standing in for a series of evidently absent but detectible and determinative differences. These differences in wiring are then cast into normative social frames and categories. ...

...Now I could be mistaken here - the paper is very dense. But to me, the authors appear to have imagined a Platonic ideal brain connectome that is uni-sexed. One has to ask then: could there be 95 different regions of interest that show the brains are more alike then we thought - probabilistically that is! If not, then it would seem that their model doesn't really reflect the one with which they began.


M. Ingalhalikar, A. Smith, D. Parker, T. D. Satterthwaite, M. A. Elliott, K. Ruparel, H. Hakonarson, R. E. Gur, R. C. Gur, R. Verma (2013). Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1316909110

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At December 05, 2013 3:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Knew you could be counted on wrt. this one.

At December 05, 2013 5:05 AM, Blogger practiCal fMRI said...

"I almost feel sorry for the authors, like they've been living in rosy days of yore and weren't aware of the looming backlash, not only to their soundbytes, but to their science."

Errr, no. With all due respect. Having started this PR fiasco, the authors should now be taken to task at Internet speed to plug the massive holes in the analysis of their data. Had this slid by in the endless wave of so-so neuroimaging studies then I, along with many people, would probably have ignored the paper. (I'm not academically interested in development or gender differences. I do methods.) But by hawking it to the press I feel bound to push back as vociferously as I can. This could easily be in same realm as faster than light neutrinos and arsenic-based life. So, if nothing else, perhaps this whole episode will be a lesson to all scientists: that "going public" with one's fancy new result means that your fancy result will come under massive scrutiny. I would have thought it was an obvious lesson, but I guess not.

At December 05, 2013 10:05 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thanks, Jona. Much appreciated.

practiCal fMRI - almost is the operative word here...

I do agree with you. But it's a bit of a surprise in this day and age that researchers (who should know better) deliver quotes straight from daytime talk shows. Perhaps that's the audience they're seeking? They want to appear on The Talk or The View or something?

I suppose it's the degree of naïvety (and the voracity and volume of the pushback) that makes me feel a little sorry for them.

It's not 2007 any more...

At February 15, 2015 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the risk of wading into a quagmire, it’s hard to take this study’s findings seriously, that there are new and significant hardwired differences in human male and female brains in additional to what we already knew, because the authors do not explain all the factors involved in why they found what they did.

For example, can we raise kids in our culture along typical gender roles and biases, then at ages 12-14, say that the differences in their brains are solely due to their genders?

To do so would be to ignore what is known about epigenetic and environmental influences in shaping the brain.


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