Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Men and women, same but equal?

A brain study made front-page news the other day (at least in The Independent), and was splashed across countless information outlets across the world. A team of researchers scanned the brains of close to a thousand men and women, and uncovered “striking differences” (as one title put it) between the brain connectivity typical of the two genders. They found greater neural connectivity from front to back and within one hemisphere in males, suggesting their brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action." Women, on the other hand,  appeared to have stronger wiring between the two hemispheres,  indicating they were generally better at integrating analytic thinking and intuition.

They argued that the apparent gender differences uncovered by the study could result from all sorts of flukes – perhaps these reflected the bigger average brain size of men, or women had a stronger tendency to move their heads in the scanner, or any differences in connectivity were largely a social construct, etc. All these speculations are plausible – but may also demonstrates the extent to which we sometimes go to rationalize away empirical (OK, computer-generated statistical) results which run against our most cherished assumptions and ideas.