Women and men wired differently.

You know because we are robots. No but really, a new study has found that women and men are neurologically different and thus feel emotions differently. Because we need more studies to support this hypothesis, really…

The study focused on activity in the amygdala, a cluster of neurons found on both sides of the brain and involved for both sexes in hormone and other involuntary functions, as well as emotions and perception.
Mr Cahill and his co-author Lisa Kilpatrick scanned the brains of 36 healthy men and 36 healthy women. The subjects were told to relax with their eyes closed during the scan, so that differences between the sexes could be studied at rest rather than during ‘heavy lifting’ such as accessing memories.

The study found that…

For men, the cluster “talks with� brain regions that help them respond to sensors for what’s going on outside the body, such as the visual cortex and an area that co-ordinates motor actions.
For women, the cluster communicates with brain regions that help them respond to sensors inside the body. These areas tune in to and regulate women’s hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and respiration.

This is a pretty small sample size so clearly these are not generalizable findings. But I have to question the cultural beliefs that surround these types of findings. I have to question a study that finds women and men are made differently as opposed to how environmental, cultural and social factors have affected these brain patterns (thoughts and actions). Can something learned change brain chemistry?
Many feminists and cultural theorists have found that it is cultural and environmental factors that support women in internal thinking, acting, responding and support men in external thinking, acting and responding, etc. So then how valid is this study? How can a study like this be valid without a consideration of surrounding factors?
I fear that studies like this just add to archaic ideas of inherent differences between men and women that are biological, as opposed to recognizing the way patriarchy functions to create these differences.
Just saying…
via Examiner.

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24 Comments

  1. Zaij
    Posted April 23, 2006 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Firstly, 32 people for a test like this is a pretty decent size. It just depends on how many variables they knocked out in the applicant selection process.
    Secondly, there ARE differences in the way men and women think that can be attributed to genetics, though most of it is, as you say, social conditioning.

  2. Posted April 23, 2006 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    The article does not mention whether there were any exceptions. Did all 36 female brains behave the same? Did all 36 male brains behave the same? And if not, was the variation?
    I believe men and women *tend* to be wired differently, but I also think there are exceptions. For example, autism is more common in boys, but it is not striclty limited to just boys.

  3. Ismone
    Posted April 23, 2006 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    The most important question in science is the ‘who cares’ question. So, even if every single woman uses her amygdala differently then every single man, what does it matter? I think studies like these are important if we are trying to treat or diagnose specific illnesses, or gain general knowledge, but that’s about it. I do not think they tell us anything about human nature or individual human potential.
    I do think these types of findings are emphasized in the media because it is so popular to say men and women are different. Studies that show how we are indistinguishable, even in meaningful ways, just don’t get the popular press.

  4. Scarbo
    Posted April 23, 2006 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    “I fear that studies like this just add to archaic ideas of inherent differences between men and women that are biological…”
    Care to cite some studies that say this notion of male/female differences being biological is “archaic”? And, please also cite studies that explain how it’s perfectly reasonable that, even though males and females of a species are anatomically different, finding the brains to be different as well is not “a consideration of surrounding factors”.
    “…as opposed to recognizing the way patriarchy functions to create these differences.”
    Dang, patriarchy is powerful stuff! Studies which show this, please? Call me skeptical.
    Your “many feminists and cultural theorists” are perhaps postulating inverse cause-effect here?

  5. Katie
    Posted April 23, 2006 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Samhita’s analysis of the study. For hundreds of years, a patriarchal society has regulated the existence of separate worlds for men and women; man’s world exists outside the home, while woman’s world is restricted to the domestic domain. A man, who is socially permitted to have a job and socialize outside the home, gets used to interacting with others and having experiences that shape his thinking and his actions. A woman, who is forced to stay in her home all day and whose social world consists only of her children, may become used to socializing with her inner self. With no adult companionship and very limited experiences outside the home, women have been (and sometimes still are) forced to develop themselves as individuals through introspection and personal thought. Men, in the form of patriarchal society, have sustained these separate male and female worlds, and the result has been the passing on from generation to generation of the same restrictive, binary roles.

  6. Posted April 23, 2006 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m paraphrasing a feminist author (but can’t remember which one) when I say that if differences among religions were handled the same way differences between genders are, a study of medieval figures would “uncover” that Spanish Muslims are hard-wired for science.
    Cheers,
    TH

  7. Mandy G
    Posted April 23, 2006 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    I personally don’t necessarily think that studies like these are invalid. Perhaps brains are different. Perhaps they aren’t. But either way, it doesn’t change the fact that culture is so strong to override almost any, and maybe all, biological ‘wirings.’ This, of course, is best exhibited by anoretics, who, like everyone else and all other animals, are hard-wired to eat when hungry. But the cultural demands are so strong that they don’t. If that’s not proof that culture can trump any biological instinct, I don’t know what is.

  8. Monkey
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    Even if brains are wired differently, that doesn’t automatically tell us something about differences in experience, mental ability, physical ability, etc. etc. The same experiences/abilities could be underwritten by different brain mechanisms. Scientists have yet to show that you can reason from brain state to mental state in the way many people assume is valid.

  9. Posted April 24, 2006 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    … And yes, “can something learned change brain chemistry?”
    In fact, everything learned changes brain chemistry.

  10. Durga_is_my_homey
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I have to question a study that finds women and men are made differently as opposed to how environmental, cultural and social factors have affected these brain patterns (thoughts and actions). Can something learned change brain chemistry?
    Yes. From the moment you are born, your brain is shaped by your environment and what you are exposed to. That determines how you filter things.
    This study doesn’t measure innate wiring, it is measuring what is now. Same old song, different damn tune.

  11. tragula
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Feminism is perfectly compatible with the notion that men and women are wired differently. So people shouldn’t be so resistant to the idea.
    blank slate

  12. kittipoo
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    What is hoped to be gained from these studies that “prove” how different men and women are? Why is there money being spent on these studies? Women and men have more in common than not, and finding differences is divisive.

  13. Fitz
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    But I have to question the cultural beliefs that surround these types of findings. I have to question a study that finds women and men are made differently as opposed to how environmental, cultural and social factors have affected these brain patterns
    Of coarse, one must think this way in order to be a feminist. Its all a product of environment, gender is a social construct. If you don’t affirm these orthodoxies you are banned from university campuses and jobs therein. (witness Larry Summers)
    Just more in the long line of the leftist war on science!

  14. Fitz
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Except for homosexuality!!!!
    Thats hard wired from birth!

  15. the15th
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    There are documented differences between the brains of gay men and straight men, but no one questions whether gay men are, say, qualified to be scientists. We already know that they are, because (closeted) gay men have had more or less the same career opportunities as other men throughout history, and no study can retroactively undo their contributions.
    These kind of studies aren’t inherently harmful to women, and could even help come up with new medical treatments that work better for them. But no matter what the measured gender difference is, the popular interpretation will somehow be that it makes women more qualified to clean the house and men more qualified to do serious intellectual work.

  16. tragula
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    The differences between male and female brains are both aptitudes, and *preferences.*
    So, for example, more women than men may prefer to stay home with the kids. (On average.)
    So long as we all have the freedom to choose our own paths, then we are not “robots.”
    The “cultural” explanations are actually much more dangerous because they encourage a “men should” and “women should” type of thinking.

  17. The Happy Feminist
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with conducting these kinds of studies. I don’t what practical applications this particular study may have but it seems that studying the brain’s “wiring” may help in various ways, such as in the treatment of mental illness.
    I don’t think studies themselves are always the problem (although bias can definitely be an issue). The problem are the speculative leaps people seem so inclined to make whenever male and female physiological differences are discovered — speculative leaps that almost always inure to the detriment of women and confirm old prejudices.
    And as others have pointed out, it is important to remember that environment and exprience can effect brain structure. Separating nature and nurture is really complicated.

  18. hujo
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Scientific racism is bad
    Scientific sexism is good?
    I tend to ignore gender eugenics, it often contradicts itself, one study is men are smarter then the next is women then the next time men. We are differnt then we are the same…YAWN.

  19. Luis
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Why does it always have to be an either/or proposition? Why does it have to be biology OR culture/environment? Isn’t it more likely that the answer lies somewhere in between? If there’s compelling evidence that the difference in our emotional responses can be partly accounted for by biology, the answer isn’t to ignore or attack the evidence without basis–it is to insist that this evidence not be used as an excuse to discriminate.

  20. noname
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you The Happy Feminist.
    You said exactly what I wanted to say but much more clearly than I ever could.

  21. tragula
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    The problem is many feminists don ‘t subscribe to the nature and nurture position.
    They believe differences are explained 100 percent by nurture. And that’s why they are wrong.

  22. the15th
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Some antifeminists believe that differences are 100 percent nature. They’re also wrong. But the real issue is that feminists believe that fairly esoteric differences are used by (mostly) non-scientists as evidence for popular stereotypes with little or no scientific basis. Do you agree or disagree with that?

  23. Posted April 24, 2006 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I am curious as to what “many feminists” means, tragula. Is there a certain percentage you are referring to?
    It seems clear to me from the posts here that “many feminists” may not buy the blank slate theory either.
    And why is what *other people* believe a problem for you? As long as they don’t try to legislate their beliefs, I am perfectly fine with letting other people have their opinions. Yes, even opinions that are sexist or not based on reason.

  24. tragula
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s true that some people will distort scientific findings to support their gender stereotypes.
    But that’s not a good argument for suppressing scientific truth and research. It just needs to be emphasized that the science clearly shows that traits for men and women are purely statistical, and that there is plenty of overlap/exceptions. Otherwise the Flanagans and the Mansfields of the world will grossly simplify it to support their beliefs in gender roles.
    Many feminists: Well, I think the louder and more militant types are a definite minority. But they are one of those bully minorities that overpower the silent majority.
    What other people believe does bother me when when mistaken views are widespread. Societies can be very quick to legislate their beliefs, potentially causing a lot of pain and suffering.
    Ignoring people may work great on a daily basis in the real world. But on a more political level it is important to speak up for reason and science.

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