Monday, October 13, 2014

Male vs Female brains

I'm interested in nerdy things, not because I collect facts in my head, but because I like seeing what people are learning -> a big-picture look at how general knowledge is changing. Facts are interesting, in the moment, but just like the science of the time once 'proved' that the earth is flat, I don't hold 'facts' as concrete evidence of the way the world actually works.

The idea of gender is one of those things I'm interested in, and by that, I mean mental/emotional gender rather than anatomical/physical.

Plus, I've got two exceptionally brainy friends, meaning they're both very smart, but also that their research/school/etc is about brains and how they work...

So, combine all of these points, and you'll see why I could not resist watching a 2014 BBC documentary called, 'Is Your Brain Male or Female'.

The documentary had a lot of information, many different researchers/etc, but most of the experiments to find evidence that m/f brains are different were inconclusive, except for:

Dr. Ragini Verma and Professor Ruben Gur (both at the University of Pennsylvania) scanned the brains of over 900 m&f (ages 8-22) to create detailed maps of the connections between the two hemispheres.

Left hemisphere: talks/understands languages, processes the world in analytic/sequential.

Right hemisphere: intuitive, spacial and emotional information.

And what did they find?

Well, the left image is the male brain, the right image is the female brain. And the consistency of this distinction/pattern between the two genders was incredibly surprising to both Verma and Gur.

Essentially, these pictures are showing that connections between the two hemispheres are stronger/more prevalent in women than in men, which means women can access different areas of their brain easier/faster than men, so it's excellent for multitasking, etc. (good for child rearing and other things that require imaginative problem solving).

In the male brains there are stronger connections between the back of the brain (where it processes info) and the front (where it puts all the info together and decides what to do with it), so the male brain has faster singular reactions (good for hunters/quick decision making/etc).

This reminds me of the old comparison (this is not my own thought/belief, I'm simply reiterating) that men's thinking/decision process is like a single knotted rope. One decision is made, then the next, then the next, while women's thinking/decision process is more like a web, pulling information from all over the place (which men find annoying/time-consuming/unnecessary).

...and the piece of this study I found most the interesting is that Verma and Gur didn't find these distinct connective differences in children!!!

M/F children's brains were remarkably similar and only began to change during the teenage years (13-18), which means, even though adults had such a clear difference, it doesn't prove whether those changes are biological, or because of societal pressures to conform. In other words, no proof if it's nature or nurture.

There were a lot of other interesting tidbits in the documentary.

For example, a standardized test which has long 'proven' that men have better spacial skills than women was discovered to be flawed...

Here's an example of the standardized test:

A different researcher (forgot to note down her name) invented a new version of this test in which the test-taker is shown a series of pictures. In those pictures is a person sitting at a table and there are objects, or dots to one side of them or the other, and the test-taker had to imagine themselves in that person's place and say where (in relation to the person in the picture) the object/dot was. Since the table in the pictures is rotated each time, it's testing for the same ability as the standardized rotation test, and as soon as the test takers had to imagine themselves as the person in the picture (instead of simply looking at a boring drawing on a piece of paper) the women's results were equal the men's results.

So, the standardized mental rotation test was flawed in that it gave male brains an advantage over women's brains. And that is something I find far more interesting... to take into account the test itself can be skewed to favour one gender over another, and I wonder how or if the results would be different for LGBTQ brains...

...which of course makes me wonder what other 'tests' are unknowingly skewed? Being dyslexic, I certainly have noticed a pattern in my own test scores... things like essays/short answers/etc, I excel in, but plonk a multiple choice test in front of me, and it's like I've forgotten how to read English.

And that brings me back to the first paragraph of this post... how 'facts' are not as reliable as we often think when the test/collection method itself can't be guaranteed neutral/unbiased.

Okay, no more nerdy blatherings for today :)

By the way, it's Canadian Thanksgiving today!


  1. I do find it interesting how some stereotypes -- women with multitasking etc. -- are shown to be how things are. The stuff on children's brains was news to me, and fascinating: it would be interesting to examine the brains of adults and children in entirely different cultures and see if that held true. Also transgender people at differing ages, since injecting estrogen or testosterone might have some effect as the changes begin in the teenage years.

    1. Exactly... it's such a complex system that constantly changes as we experience the world, there's no easy way to test for something like that.

      I'm assuming in the study they scanned 900 American brains... but scanning brains from other cultures, like indigenous cultures, would certainly be enlightening :)

  2. So basically, you're saying we know nothing? I agree. ;)

    1., does that make me Socrates, and you the oracle of Delphi, or the opposite?

      ...can I now offer you some hemlock-flavoured cheese? ;)


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)