There’s been a lot of buzz around a new study that examines the differences between male and female brains. The study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Ragini Verma and her colleagues and recently published in the journal PNAS, uses advanced imaging to map the connectivity of the left and right brain hemispheres of males and females. The researchers concluded that male and female brains have fundamental differences: males have more interconnectivity in each hemisphere, while women have more connectivity between the two. The researchers and the media have since taken this information and used it to validate stereotypes like “women can’t read maps” and “men can’t multitask.”
But as Wired’s Christian Jarrett aptly notes, these conclusions aren’t necessarily accurate, and it’s dangerous to leap to sweeping generalizations. For one, the numbers have been crunched by other researchers and while they are interesting, they are not definitive. There is a ton of overlap in the data, and since the data only takes average differences into account, it doesn’t allow for the fact that a random woman could have more connectivity within one hemisphere than a random man.
The most disturbing aspect of the study is that it doesn’t factor in actual behavioral science; in other words, the researchers drew conclusions from their data based mostly on outdated brain science. We know now that there’s really no such thing as being a rational “left brainer” or creative “right brainer,” yet the implication that women are more intuitive and men are better at spacial recognition is firmly grounded in the old way of thinking about left and right hemispheres. Jarrett also notes that the study fails at accounting for the way we train our brains to behave. If we are taught to cultivate stereotypical gender-specific skills, like map reading or multitasking, our brains adapt. What shows up in the data could well be the result of the way we’re taught, not the way we’re “hard-wired.”
Thanks to Wired
Image via AAS