December 8, 2013

"As hardy perennials go, there is little to beat that science hacks' favourite: the hard-wiring of male and female brains."

Writes Guardian science editor Robin McKie (who's a male, if that matters to you)"
For more than 30 years, I have seen a stream of tales about gender differences in brain structure under headlines that assure me that from birth men are innately more rational and better at map-reading than women, who are emotional, empathetic multi-taskers, useless at telling jokes...

And there are no signs that this flow is drying up...
McKie, being male, slips in a menopause joke.

... with last week witnessing publication of a particularly lurid example of the genre. Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia revealed they had used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to show that the neurons in men's brains are connected to each other in a very different way from neurons in women's brains....

It is biological determinism at its silly, trivial worst. Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors...

Equally, when gender differences are uncovered by researchers they are frequently found to be trivial, a point made by Robert Plomin, a professor of behavioural genetics at London's Institute of Psychiatry, whose studies have found that a mere 3% of the variation in young children's verbal development is due to their gender....
Read the whole thing. And try to maintain some rationality this time. Especially you men. I know it's hard for you. Oh, no, Althouse, being female, could not have made a joke. I must with heavier, manly hands crack that joke in the comments, that joke that she could not have made.

27 comments:

rhhardin said...

It's written for women.

Clyde said...

If we were talking about climate change, I'm sure that the Grauniad would be telling us that the science was settled.

In this case, there is a lot of evidence that men's and women's brains are, indeed, wired differently. Men's brains tend to use a single part for various tasks, while women's brains tend to use multiple parts for the same task, which tends to make them more resilient in recovering from strokes.

Men as a group tend to be better than women as a group in some mental tasks, and worse in others. It should be noted that for both men and women, there's a distributional bell curve, and those curves tend to overlap.

And I think that McKie has it backwards: Men are not better at spatial tasks than women because of cultural factors, but because of evolutionary ones. Men with the better spatial skills were more likely to hit the mammoth with the spear, just as women's brains evolved based on the skills they used to help their tribes survive. We have tens of thousands of years of evolution that have shaped us in ways that we don't even understand any more, with the patina of a few thousand years of civilization over us. At our core, however, we are still the same physical people that our spear-bearing ancestors were.

EDH said...

I must with heavier, manly hands crack that joke in the comments, that joke that she could not have made.

"Don't you just love lobster?"

Hagar said...

It goes back much farther than homo sapiens.
Remember Jane Goodall and the Bonobo chimpanzees?

And indeed any other mammal you can think of. The behaviors of males and females are different, though the differences may be different for different species as the species have found what is beneficial for survival in their particular niches.

Rusty said...

Menopause is no joke.
That's some scary shit right there.

It would be a good idea to have government subsidized hospices where men can go while this evil hormone shit is working itself out.

Freeman Hunt said...

He only wrote this because his connections go front to back.

Bruce Hayden said...

Guardian author seems more interested in protecting the progressive meme that most, if not all, of the differences between the two sexes (on average) are the result of upbringing/environment than of genetic sexual differenciation. He essentially spends half the article on a rant about this, and the rest on some weak criticisms of the study. If we weren't aware that Robin was male, we might, from the content of the article, assume that they were female.

One thing that Robin seems not to understand is statistics, and the concept of bell curves (as pointed out above by Clyde). This means that there are invariably some females on the male side of some males on those distributions, and visa versa, since the tails of the two bell curves intersect. And, indeed, in the graduate engineering program that my kid is in, approximately 1/3 are now female, whereas 3 1/2 decades ago when my brother was in that program, it was maybe 90% male.

Don't know Robin''s sexual orientation, but would not be surprised if he had never spent a lot of time in a close relationship with a female. Most guys I have ever talked with who have spent much time in such relationships, innately understand that there are sexual differences in the brains of the two sexes. Every time we, as males, are asked whether we like an outfit or if it makes her look fat, every time that she goes on and on about the social aspects of her day, which to us males is almost totally irrelevant, etc. And for me, the constant questions about actors's names on TV, and where they played before - not something I notice, or really have any interest in. Deborah Tannen is right - men and women communicate very differently. Dealing with females can be exhausting because of all the extra emotional information that they expect us to understand and don't, mostly because it is irrelevant to us For man, if not most, males, communications is about communicating information, and adding in emotions is just a waste of time. And, to attribute this basic difference, which is the subject of many jokes told by men to other men, to upbringing or environment is just plain silly.

Finally, interesting to me is that they reran the L&A SUV episode where two identical boys were born, but one of them had an accident at a very young age, where his male organ was disfigured or severely damaged. They had a doctor who decided to cut off his male organs, create some female ones, and raise the boy as a girl. Turns out that the "girl" twin knew something was wrong, but not what, but reacted as a male would when threatened by rape. In the end, one of the two twins killed the doctor, and being identical, and identically dressed, they couldn't determine which one did it (GSR maybe?)

Hagar said...

Re. the article about the highly successful Wall Street women.
Is it possible that they are so successful because they are women?

High finance is supposed to be "a man's world," but maybe the intricacies of finance really are more easily mastered by women's brains?
And nobody has said women are not competitive; just that they tend to go about it in different ways.

rcocean said...

Just another useless Left-wing attack on science.

Shorter article: Don't confuse me with facts, my male Guardian mind is made up!

Michael said...

My wife could happily report in the course of,say,three hours every conversation she had with others over the previous eight. A "condensed" version. In other words she does not mind, in fact relishes, reliving her day. I have no interest in re-living my day and am most content with summing it up as "fine."

eddie willers said...

Every time we, as males, are asked whether we like an outfit or if it makes her look fat, every time that she goes on and on about the social aspects of her day, which to us males is almost totally irrelevant

His and Her Diaries

HER DIARY

Tonight I thought he was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a bar to have a drink. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment. Conversation wasn't flowing so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed but he kept quiet and absent. I asked him what was wrong; he said nothing. I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said it had nothing to do with me and not to worry.

On the way home I told him that I loved him, he simply smiled and kept driving. I can't explain his behavior; I don't know why he didn't say I love you too. When we got home I felt as if I had lost him, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there and watched T.V. He seemed distant and absent.

Finally, I decided to go to bed. About 10 minutes later he came to bed, and to my surprise he responded to my caress and we made love, but I still felt that he was distracted and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep - I cried. I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else.....................

My life is a disaster.


HIS DIARY

Today the Packers lost, but at least I got laid.

Biff said...

I know a little bit about this subject, as I used to teach Neuroanatomy at an Ivy League medical school. I was prepared to despise the linked article, since so many articles discussing gender-based brain differences truly are awful. This one used some clumsy language and could have expressed the main points more concisely, but it was more correct than incorrect.

Here are the "take home" points:

(1) Among scientists, there are few observations that are LESS controversial than that, on average, there are significant structural and biochemical differences between "male" and "female" brains, and these differences start appearing very early in life.* This is true across a very wide range of species, never mind across human cultures.

(2) At the same time, aside from a narrow set of mating-related behaviors, there is almost zero reliable, repeatable evidence for how these structural and biochemical differences might translate into complex human behaviors and cognition. Zero. That's not to say that there aren't differences that might be important across a population. It merely means that we don't know the right questions to ask. It also means that we should take great care to remember that while we all are members of various populations that may tend in one direction or another, our individual natures should be the primary (if not the only) consideration how we are treated.

Essentially, we are talking about the difference between biology and psychology: it is much easier to describe objectively measurable, physical characteristics than it is to interpret subjective, behavioral characteristics. Consciously or not, it is very difficult to perform work in certain fields of psychology without bias and politics entering the fray. Caveat emptor.

I've rambled for too long, but it is an interesting subject, and the biology is far more subtle than most people appreciate.

* I put "male" and "female" in quotes because the terms are fuzzier than one might hope for when it comes to describing complex characteristics. For example, whether a brain turns out to be "male" or "female" has more to do with the hormonal environment around the brain during critical phases of fetal development than on whether the brain is genetically male or female. It's true that the hormonal environment is very strongly correlated with the genetics of the fetus, but it is not a 100% correlation. (As an aside, this is true of much of human biology, including gonad development. It seems the default path is for organs to develop as "female," unless the body receives specific biochemical signals at exactly the right times to be "male," regardless of the complement of sex chromosomes.)

Bruce Hayden said...

Eddie - and the left will have you believe that the differences you highlight are primarily, if not completely, the result of upbringing and environment. And that if boys were just raised to prize talking about feelings over accomplishing goals, these differences would disappear.

ALP said...

My boyfriend and I (hetero relationship) both like to play Grand Theft Auto V. If you need further proof men and women are wired a bit differently - watch the two genders play video games based on aggression, violence and crime. As a female playing this game, it really drives home how differently one needs to think in a virtual world like GTA V - although each and every day I see headlines that must be inspired by the game. Life imitating art and all that.

For example....in shootout situations in various missions - it took me a while to figure out that you had to be much more aggressive - you have to go all out as if you had balls the size of grapefruit! Grab your assault rife and push through with guns blazing (yet accurate). Hanging back behind cover, hoping the opponent will wander by so you can pick them off easily...you'll never make progress.

It is abundantly clear we approach the game very differently. At one point, I mentioned: "Hey, why can't this game allow Michael and Trevor go shopping together like golf or the movies?" My partner calmly said, after rolling his eyes: "Because they are not women."

n.n said...

Science has developed as a replacement theology. The scientific method has been replaced in part or whole by inference or correlation.

I wonder who has the more objective perspective, the scientist or journalist. Ostensibly the former, but both classes have invited scrutiny of their methods and motives.

Women are men are apes are clumps of cells or vice versa. Perhaps there is a better standard to judge our differences, innate and developed.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think that if you happen to be an exception to what is generally true of your sex, you are probably even more aware of general characteristics and differences between the sexes than you would otherwise be.

Larry Nelson said...

Then there's "The Men's Helpline":

Dear Andy,
I really need your advice on a serious problem: I have suspected for some time now that my wife has been cheating on me. The usual signs: if the phone rings and I answer, the caller hangs up; she goes out with the girls a lot. I try to stay awake to look out for her when she comes home but I usually fall asleep. Anyway last night about midnight I hid in the shed behind the boat. When she came home she got out of someone's car, buttoning her blouse, then she took her panties out of her purse and slipped them on. It was at that moment, crouched behind the boat, that I noticed a hairline crack in the outboard engine mounting bracket. Is that something I can weld or do I need to replace it?

Larry Nelson said...

Then there is the joke of the

"Men's Helpline"

Dear Andy,
I really need your advice on a serious problem: I have suspected for some time now that my wife has been cheating on me. The usual signs: if the phone rings and I answer, the caller hangs up; she goes out with the girls a lot. I try to stay awake to look out for her when she comes home but I usually fall asleep. Anyway last night about midnight I hid in the shed behind the boat. When she came home she got out of someone's car, buttoning her blouse, then she took her panties out of her purse and slipped them on. It was at that moment, crouched behind the boat, that I noticed a hairline crack in the outboard engine mounting bracket. Is that something I can weld or do I need to replace it?

mtrobertsattorney said...

This discussion reminds me of a commercial I saw a while back. A young couple are house hunting and standing inside a new house up for sale. They both love this house and want to buy it --but for entirely different reasons.

In the woman's imaginary vision, the house is all decorated for Xmas and she is standing at the front door with her husband, holding a baby, and two young children at her side welcoming inside her parents who are loaded down with presents.

In the man's imaginary vision, he standing at the front door welcoming in his buddies who are all dressed up in Super Bowl gear and carrying cases of beer.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

mtrobertsattorney said...

This discussion reminds me of a commercial I saw a while back. A young couple are house hunting and standing inside a new house up for sale. They both love this house and want to buy it --but for entirely different reasons.

In the woman's imaginary vision, the house is all decorated for Xmas and she is standing at the front door with her husband, holding a baby, and two young children at her side welcoming inside her parents who are loaded down with presents.

In the man's imaginary vision, he standing at the front door welcoming in his buddies who are all dressed up in Super Bowl gear and carrying cases of beer.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

n.n said...

I will guess that the journalist's position is motivated by an ideological perspective. The simple act of observing physical structure is neither controversial nor novel. While an effort to infer associated traits or behaviors may be.

The natural order is primarily, but not exclusively, responsible for disposition not determination. The observation that there are innate physical differences between men and women, including the structure of our brains, is as controversial as the observation that a human life evolves from conception to death, and for the same reasons.

Hagar said...

How many guys have you seen riding behind on motorcycles lately?

Howard said...

It's quite simple, really. The wiring is hard-wired by social influence over millions of years of evolution in the wild. Since western man is evolving quite rapidly during the Holocene. No doubt as the roles of each sex changes, the hard wiring will evolve.

RecChief said...

I think he is trying to get laid. I don't think there is any deeper analysis needed.

John Lynch said...

I cannot imagine a male Althouse. Men and women are different, and they do think differently, but it's different for everyone.

SeanF said...

Hagar: How many guys have you seen riding behind on motorcycles lately?

As luck would have it, I was watching "Mad Max" on TV recently...

gregq said...

Wow, what an amazing load of crap. Even for the Guardian, this is weak:

"Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors. Males develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing."

1: What is his evidence that it IS cultural? Nothing is offered, other than his fantasy that it is so.

2: Let's do a study, shall we? How about we compare the brains of female fast-pitch softball players with male baseball players. Everyone will have lots of experience with "throwing and catching". Bet you $1,000 that the male brains will be wired differently from the female brains.

3: I am vastly amused that a Guardian writer doesn't consider "metric football" (i.e. soccer) to be a "sport" (there being essentially no "throwing and catching" in that game). Of course, given the vast number of women who DO play soccer, admitting it is a sport would destroy his whole claim.

IOW, typical brainless faith based leftist Guardian crap.