November 24, 2015

"There’s been a lot of poorly thought-out stuff written about the differences between men’s and women’s brains and minds."

"In the worst instances, sexist commentators use spurious neuroscience claims to provide 'evidence' for gender stereotypes — take John Gray of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus fame, who says men can’t multitask because they use one brain hemisphere at a time while women use two (not true), or Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain, who says women are more emotional and empathetic than men because they have more mirror neurons (ditto). But if you can get past all of this pseudoscience, there’s some legitimately illuminating, serious medical research on sex-based brain differences — some of which has important health implications.... For example, while both sexes showed reduced total brain volume and thalamus volume with age, only the men showed age-related reductions in caudate nucleus and putamen volume (the putamen is another subcortical area involved in movement control). Furthermore, overall gray matter (including in subcortical areas) in the men’s brains was found to reduce at a faster rate than in women’s brains — which could be taken as a mark of faster brain aging in men."

Isn't it amazing that the evidence or "evidence" — from bad or good science — always ends up showing that when there's a difference between men and women, it's what's true about the woman that is good?

The quote is from "Men’s and Women’s Brains Appear to Age Differently" in New York Magazine.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Always good? What about the well known IQ gap on both sides of the bell curve? Men out numbering women by 4-8x in the 130-140 IQ range, and it only gets greater from there...

The reason it seems like it's always positive, Ann, is because news is slanted. If the IQ gap were reported it would be instantly attacked as sexist. That is why it is so important to recognize that narrative has nothing to do with reality.

Anonymous said...

I saw a comment by Cathy Young that said feminism teaches a) there is no difference between men and women, and b) that if there is a difference it only shows that women are better than men. I think this is a common outlook today.

Laslo Spatula said...

Obvious on the most basic of levels.

Man was meant to hunt, kill and procreate. Not much needed after that, so: brain built with the disposability of a Bic lighter.

Women were meant to nurture, raise children, and knit. Lots of knitting. Which requires concentration. Which means extra brain endurance for all that knitting.

The extra brian age also allows women to nurse grudges for fifty years or more; the men can't remember who the other person even was.

I am Laslo.

Bob Ellison said...

But women really are, on average, in the aggregate, better at multi-tasking than men.

This is something most of us have observed, and we should be curious about why it's the case.

There are lots of things we all know like that:

* Men tend to get crotchety faster than women, as they age.

* Women tend to be worse than men at controlling their own emotions.

* Men are more prone than women to rage, and this can cause big problems.

* Women are less eager and quick to complain about working conditions than men.

* Men remember jokes and can re-tell them. Women just can't.

* Women are prettier than men.

Grackle said...

It isn't amazing in the least. The universities are over-run by leftists, eager to prove every cherished conceit. Therefore, no honest "science" on climate, homosexuality, or difference due to race or gender, or the effect of multi-cultural communities on human happiness. As a cultural conservative, I can only hope to see the day when the world finally decides not to let us keep printing money. A lot of bills will come due, then.

False Grackle

Larry J said...

I remember watching a 3-part documentary called "Brain Sex" back in the 1980s. Brain scans were a new thing back then. They put male and female test subjects in a scanner (IIRC, a PET scanner) and had them perform identical tasks. The scanner showed which parts of the brain were active during those tasks. One task dealing with verbal communications showed a pronounced difference. Male subjects were only using a small portion of their brains for verbal communications while female subjects were using much more. The documentary mentioned that this may explain why men who have strokes that affect their speech center have a harder time regaining their ability to speak than women stroke victims.

The show also covered other tasks such as 3-dimensional spatial orientation. Men as a group were better at that, which may explain why there aren't many female crane operators.

Char Char Binks said...

You're just a woman with a small brain. A brain a third the size of us. It's science.

Bruce Hayden said...

She tells me constantly how stupid I am because I don't remember things, or don't recognize Hollywood stars in different roles in different shows. So, yesterday we were walking, and at the end, she asked me where the door to Target was. Duh! We had just walked by there 5 minutes earlier, and had been walking that mall for most of a month now. I could, of course, have told her the shortest route there the first time I walked the mall, maybe a decade ago. The mall is a long oval, with Target about 1/5 of the way back clockwise. I think that part of her problem was that we always walk counterclockwise, and the shortest route was clockwise. But, the other part is that she doesn't see the mall as the long oval in her head. And, this isn't, of course, unique here - I see much of the physical world as a spatial map in my head. A lot of guys do, and many fewer women do (my mother, with a degree in mathematics could read maps, but was one of the only ones who could do so in her hiking group). I do wonder how many women survive in the real world, where being able to spatially navigate is so important to getting around esp. big cities. For me, much more important than being able to recognize actors from their former roles (and be able to recognize when soap operas trade out what actors are playing what parts).

The point of this, if there is one, is that there really are innate sexual differences between most male brains and most female brains. We all know it, but it is often politically incorrect to talk about it. Women tend to be better than men some things, and visa versa (individuals may, of course, vary). I am good spatially (we have a lot of math degrees in my family), and bad with faces and voices. My partner is just the opposite.

Ann Althouse said...

@TCom

Yes, that's my point. It's a point I've made on this blog repeatedly for almost 12 years.

Ann Althouse said...

If people with bad memories would put a little less effort into explaining why memory isn't really that much to do with overall intelligence and a little more effort into trying to remember things, they might find they have better memories.

Memory is, in part, caring about retaining information, and it's a skill you can develop. But you have to want to remember. When you're introduced to someone and you immediately forget their name, you need to own up to not caring. That said, forgetting is also a skill and there's reason to keep the forgetting function revved up. You won't get much credit from other people for being great at processing things into oblivion, but you are serving your own interests. Own up to that too.

Wilbur said...

If you've ever tried to give a woman driving directions, you know they don't do NSEW. You get the blank stare.

They do landmarks.

Original Mike said...

"I remember watching a 3-part documentary called "Brain Sex" back in the 1980s. Brain scans were a new thing back then. They put male and female test subjects in a scanner (IIRC, a PET scanner) and had them perform identical tasks."

A PET scan result from about 10 years ago showed that women's brains light up like they are high when they hear the sound of their own voice.

Fernandistein said...

TCom said...
That is why it is so important to recognize that narrative has nothing to do with reality.


I disagree. The narrative is generally the opposite of reality. The "women's brains are better" stuff is there because it's so obvious that men have done, and continue to do, almost all the mental heavy lifting.

And it's not just IQ/math ability, because "Gender Differences in Personality Are Larger than Previously Thought"

A nice one-liner: "There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper." (Here "because" means "for the same reasons"; not causality).

Gahrie said...

Isn't it amazing that the evidence or "evidence" — from bad or good science — always ends up showing that when there's a difference between men and women, it's what's true about the woman that is good?

No more amazing than everything that happens weather wise being evidence of climate change.

Sebastian said...

"always ends up showing that when there's a difference between men and women, it's what's true about the woman that is good?"

Because the superior goodness of women is baked into the structure of the universe, that's why.

"Memory is, in part, caring about retaining information, and it's a skill you can develop."

True, but not everybody can do it equally. There might even be, gasp, sex differences in retention ability. Women, of course, are gooder in remembering the stuff that matters -- the color of Marco Rubio's eyes, shoes worn at the Oscars.

lgv said...

It is no different than science indicating any difference by race, only you can't even mention it. But, I do find that there is plenty of junk science out there trying to define differences between sexes.

We are slowly slipping into the mode where one can longer speak of such differences. I could be wrong. I think real differences can exist due to differing endocrine systems.

Fernandistein said...

Stumbled across the below while looking for CRISPR edits in human zygotes

The truth about men

"Via NYTimes' Tierny Lab blog, this address to the American Psychological Association.

What was the audience reaction? Did people run from the room to avoid vomiting at Baumeister's horrible remarks? Do psychologists not have an intuitive understanding of variance? Why does Baumeister take so long to explain something so mathematically simple?"

n.n said...

Men and women are equal but complementary. Men and women are also individuals with unique traits and characteristics that will be realized through expression and recognized on its merits. The effort to isolate men from women is counterproductive and engenders a hostile environment that necessarily reduces evolutionary fitness and social cohesiveness.

mikee said...

If you are getting your neuroscience from New York Magazine or popular books published without peer review, you should not expect accuracy in scientific details.

Ben Carson, on the other hand, can tell you quite a bit about neuroscience. Not that anyone at New York Magazine would have thought to ask him any questions about that for such an article as the one posted by Althouse.

Because he's black, and Republican, which to them is unpossible.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Once we find out what's wrong with women's brains, maybe we can fix them!
What? Was that non-PC?

cubanbob said...

What an amazing observation; men and woman have different brain functional aspects. Why this would come as a surprise to anyone I don't know, its not like men and woman are otherwise biologically indistinguishable.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I'm sure it amazed Larry Summers when a simple and statistically-correct observation let to his prompt firing, yeah.

CISPR editing: Coming soon to your garage! [Gizmag article on a company promoting a home gene editing kit using CISPR for less than $200]

kwenzel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kwenzel said...

Here's an example of well-thought out stuff, speaking of the differences in distribution between the genders:

Are girls too normal? Sex differences in intelligence

(link fixed)

Drago said...

TCom: "Always good? What about the well known IQ gap on both sides of the bell curve? Men out numbering women by 4-8x in the 130-140 IQ range, and it only gets greater from there..."

Dude.

Why do you bother?

"Women need statistics" like fish need a bicycle.

Bruce Hayden said...

If people with bad memories would put a little less effort into explaining why memory isn't really that much to do with overall intelligence and a little more effort into trying to remember things, they might find they have better memories.

Memory is, in part, caring about retaining information, and it's a skill you can develop. But you have to want to remember. When you're introduced to someone and you immediately forget their name, you need to own up to not caring. That said, forgetting is also a skill and there's reason to keep the forgetting function revved up. You won't get much credit from other people for being great at processing things into oblivion, but you are serving your own interests. Own up to that too.


Maybe. But, ease of memorizing does vary person to person, and, I would suggest, to some extent, sex to sex. My partner has/had an eidetic memory. Think of it as a built in video recorder, that she can replay at her leisure. Which meant that she didn't have to really study through high school and college. Rather, she would read the material once, then replay it in her head when taking tests. (This isn't totally sex linked, since she apparently inherited this ability from her father). Which is why the idea that I am supposed to be able to recognize actors in new roles, or new actors in old roles. I don't care, and so don't spend the effort to memorize this sort of stuff. And, for her, it isn't any effort. I really do think that substituting actors into old roles works for most of the population - those who don't have eidetic memories.

Which gets me to my next point - that memorization is more difficult for some than it is for others, and while my partner is on one end of the scale, I am at the other. I remember spending weeks in 7th grade tying to memorize the geologic eras. It never got better. If I am interested in something, then I pick up the details by osmosis. If I am not, then it is very hard to do. On the flip side, I pick up concepts quickly. Esp. STEM stuff. Remember one trig test maybe 40 years ago, where I couldn't remember the trig formulas. No problem - I just derived them on the spot, and finished the test with plenty of time to spare.

But, there do seem to be sex/gender based differences in the innate ability to distinguish and remember faces and voices. They apparently start showing up shortly after birth, with girl babies tending to be better able to recognize people than boy babies.

Finally, why isn't the inability to think spatially, that seems so much more common in males, also something that is based on not trying hard enough? Why should it be that something that females tend to do better at be something that anyone can perfect if they just work hard enough, but spatial awareness, something that males seem better at, isn't something that can be developed through hard word? Is it because women are somehow superior because they work harder at things like memorizing miscellaneous facts, and, in particular, faces, voices, and names, but men are not superior because their superior ability to think spatially is somehow innate (or, in my partner's view, less important, since she can't do it, and I can)?

Bruce Hayden said...

TCom: "Always good? What about the well known IQ gap on both sides of the bell curve? Men out numbering women by 4-8x in the 130-140 IQ range, and it only gets greater from there..."

I don't think that it is that drastic, from the linked article. My memory of the article is that at an IQ of 140, the split is roughly 58/42 male/female, which is closer to 3/2 than 4-8x. I think that it is really when you go out another STD or so, to maybe 160 and higher, that you start to see really big differences.

MY theory on the why here is that there is something on the X chromosomes that moderates this. Males have one, and females have two, and the two operate to maybe average out IQ. But, it has to be more complicated than that - looking at how the 5 boys in my family growing up differed (e.g. 4 of 5 excelled in math, as did our mother).

Another theory though is that higher IQ is more important to males, as contrasted to females, and that, I think, is probably because males are expendable, while females are not, when it comes to breeding. Higher IQ would presumably result in more breeding opportunities, and a lower one would presumably result in the opposite. Something like that. Should be interesting to see what finally turns out to be the case.

StephenFearby said...

Larry Cahil (Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, UC-Irvine, and also something of a wag)

Comments on this PNAS U Pennsylvania study:

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jan 14; 111(2): 823–828

Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain.

"...The developmental trajectories of males and females separate at a young age, demonstrating wide differences during adolescence and adulthood. The observations suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes...."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896179/pdf/pnas.201316909.pdf


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"In PNAS, a report by Ingalhalikar et al. (1) has the makings of a landmark paper. Here I would like to briefly suggest why.

Biomedical research in general, and neuroscience in particular, has been built on a false assumption. I refer to the assumption that one may safely ignore potential sex influences, for essentially every domain outside sexual functions and sex-specific issues like prostate function, and still learn everything fundamental there is to learn. Widespread acceptance of this false assumption among neuroscientists is the reason they still overwhelmingly use only males in their animal experiments while implying that their results will apply equally to females and why potential sex influences are still routinely ignored or dismissed even when both sexes are studied, as in many human subject and knockout mouse studies."



"...A comedian discussing men and women once described the male brain as a bunch of boxes that don’t touch one another and the female brain as a complex ball of interconnected wires. Amusing as the bit was, the analogies may be more apt than he could have known. The findings of Ingahalikar et al. do indeed point to a greater degree of modular function in the physical architecture of the male brain and of interconnectedness in physical architecture of the female brain. Given the size of the study, the consistency of the conclusions across various analytic approaches, and the seeming concordance of key findings with well-established literature addressing brain function, one cannot fairly accuse Ingalhalikar et al. of hyperbole when they claim that their findings “reveal fundamental sex differences in the architecture of the human brain.” Theirs is a landmark paper that should accelerate acceptance of the notion that, for those who want to understand how brains function, sex matters."


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896140/pdf/pnas.201320954.pdf


The Economist's review:
Vive la différence!

A new technique has drawn wiring diagrams of the brains of the two sexes. The contrast between them is illuminating.

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21591157-new-technique-has-drawn-wiring-diagrams-brains-two-sexes


But people still get into trouble pointing out these differences, like chess grandmaster Nigel Short did earlier this year:

"The story that unleashed the media storm in the international press appeared in the latest edition of the chess magazine New in Chess."

Which starts off with this old quote from a Dutch grandmaster who died in 1988:

‘The difference between the sexes is remarkable in chess, but not any more so, to my mind, than any other field of cultural activity. Women cannot play chess, but they cannot paint either, or write, or philosophise. In fact, women have never thought or made anything worth considering.’ – Jan Hein Donner

Short obviously doesn't believe this, but used the quote to stir things up...somewhat more than he expected.

http://en.chessbase.com/post/vive-la-diffrence-the-full-story