Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brain Pattern Gender Differences

Well, here's a surprise. Researchers have found that men and women think a little differently from each other. (Shh. Don't tell Women's Studies Department.)

When presented with the same task, men and women use different parts of their brains to come up with the same answer, according to a new study.

"What we found most compelling was that male and female participants performed equally on tasks, both in terms of accuracy and timing; they just used different parts of their brains to get the tasks done," said researcher Amy Clements of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, in a news release.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers found distinct differences between men and women in which parts of the brain were used to complete the tasks.

For example, women showed more bilateral activation of a brain region during the
language tasks than the males, who were more lateralized to the left side of their brain. Meanwhile, the opposite was true during the visual-spatial task with men showing more bilateral activation in another area while processing visual information than females, who were more lateralized to the right side.

Read the FoxNews story here.

Interesting. Mind you, the average IQ for both men and women as groups and for individuals is still 100. (We can talk about standard deviations another time.) Males and females can and do perform the same tasks, but come up with their answers in different ways. Undoubtedly, there will be concerns over research such as this in certain quarters. The concerns will probably center on whether these demonstrable differences will translate into societal oppression against half of us.

While research such as this is inherently fascinating, I imagine that most people instinctively knew that men and women approach problems from different angles, or think a bit differently, if you will. In my experience, it usually takes a great deal of education to deny the obvious. While some of the sex differences we observe are most likely cultural, most parents know that their babies come pre-wired with certain personality traits and that gender differences tend to be more the cause of the types of toys and activities their children gravitate towards rather than a symptom of toys and activities forced upon them.

There exists a tremendous amount of variation within both sexes, and it's my belief that children should be allowed to develop their natural interests regardless of an activity's societal label as masculine or feminine. Still, that hardly means that no general tendencies can be observed. I think some of the feminist anger arose from the long-standing tendency to label difference as intellectual inferiority and to stifle those women whose giftings and interests have led them into more "masculine" endeavors. Point taken. Perhaps now we can have intelligent discussion and research on this fascinating topic of real gender differences without politicizing it?


At 7/26/2006 8:50 PM, Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

There is quite a bit of difference in brain structures on average by gender, Anna. We girls have thicker "cross connections" (corpus collosum) between the hemispheres and that make for what is called more cross talk.
Resulting in more attention across brain function rather than therefore, perhaps, can ignore certain somethings much more easily!!!!
But the structural variance likely leads to this differing access function in mentation processes.

At 7/26/2006 8:59 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

You're absolutely correct, Nancy. The variation I spoke of within both sexes referred to interests and personality and talents, not to brain structure. In other words, if a boy has interest in poetry or dance, I think it should be encouraged and if a girl has interest in auto mechanics, she should be encouraged to go for it. I don't want kids put in a box because of their gender. But we also need to understand that girls and boys will each tend toward certain interests and abilities. There should be no coersion either way. And we shouldn't get bent out of shape if more women major in English and more men in engineering, as long as there is no discrimination in the process.

At 7/27/2006 12:48 AM, Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

well put!


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