Some useful framing for the Ingalhalikar et al. paper I wrote about earlier today – Christian Jarrett, "Getting in a Tangle Over Men's and Women's Brain Wiring", Wired 12/4/2013:
[L]et’s set this new brain wiring study in the context of previous research. Verma and her team admit that a previous paper looking at the brain wiring of 439 participants failed to find significant differences between the sexes. What about studies on the corpus callosum – the thick bundle of fibres that connects the two brain hemispheres? If women really have more cross-talk across the brain, this is one place where you’d definitely expect them to have more connectivity. And yet a 2012 diffusion tensor paper found “a stronger inter-hemispheric connectivity between the frontal lobes in males than females”. Hmm. Another paper from 2006 found little difference in thickness of the callosum according to sex. Finally a meta-analysis from 2009: “The alleged sex-related corpus callosum size difference is a myth,” it says.
OK, one last thing. I don’t know if you saw it, but earlier this year another study involving hundreds of participants used a different technique (resting state fMRI) to examine connectivity in the brain, this time for the purpose of seeing if some people have more left-brain functional hubs and others have more right-brained hubs (they don’t). This obviously isn’t the same focus as the new PNAS paper, but if men and women’s brains really are wired up differently to optimise them for map reading or multitasking etc, you’d think there’d be some important sex differences in the way functional hubs are lateralised (distributed to one side of the brain or the other). In fact, “no differences in gender were observed,” the authors said.
In conclusion – Wow, those are some pretty wiring diagrams! Oh … shame about the way they interpreted them.
A small sample of the more credulous media uptake:
Ian Sample, "Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal", The Guardian 12/2/2013
"Striking differences in brain wiring between men and women", EarthSky 12/3/2013
Eamonn Fingleton, "Is Equal Opportunity Threatened By New Findings That Female And Male Brains Are Different?", Forbes 12/3/2013
Steve Connor, "The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading' and why women are 'better at remembering a conversation'", The Independent 12/3/2013
"Sex and Brains: Vive la différence!", The Economist 12/7/2013
Robert Lee Hotz, "Differences in How Men and Women Think Are Hard-Wired", WSJ 12/9/2013
Debora MacKenzie, "Brains of women, men are actually wired differently", New Scientist 12/12/2013
Tom Purcell, "Gender differences are hard-wired", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 12/15/2013
Some more thoughtful reactions:
David DiSalvo, "Study: The Brains of Men and Women Are Different… WIth A Few Major Caveats", Forbes 12/8/2013
Alva Noé, "Do Men And Women Have Different Brains?", NPR 12/13/2013
Robin McKie, "Time to ditch the 'Venus and Mars' cliche", The New Zealand Herald 12/14/2013
"It's time for brain science to ditch the 'Venus and Mars' cliche", Pandagon 12/12/2013
And a really good piece of general advice, from Donald Clark, "Scientists are from mars, Journalists are from Venus", Irish TImes 12/7/2013": "Beware of any science story that tends to confirm your own prejudices".
Well, thank goodness that’s sorted. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have proved that women are genetically predisposed to chatting and men are better at snooker and reading maps. If I’m reading the report correctly, it supports most of the arguments made by Prof Higgins in My Fair Lady. “Why is thinking something women never do?” the Edwardian misogynist warbles. [...]
Something about this doesn’t feel right. Don’t you think? If the scientists had “proved” Italians were programmed to be libidinous and the Irish were genetically predisposed to drunkenness, there might have been a little more scepticism about the findings. One suspects the human psyche is not so easily corralled.
Update — Lise Eliot has a expert discussion of the science as well as the media response: "Sex-trapolation in the Latest Brain Science", 12/30/2013.