Tuesday, 3 December 2013

New study just out - men's brains and women's brains really are wired up differently! Good or bad?

It's an old chestnut, that men's and women's brains are wired up differently. True or false? Can you tell, in a scientific way?

Well, I caught a brief item on this morning's BBC Radio 4 programme Today. A professor from Philadelphia was discussing the main results of a statistically significant new study into the brain scans of nearly 1,000 children. They had an age spread from eight to late teens. The study looked at the neural connections between the two halves of the brain, left and right, and also within each half. And then compared the results for male children and female children.

It seemed that female children had greater connectivity between the two halves of the brain than male children had; but that within each half, male children had more connectivity. Broadly this indicated that men had better sight-to-body movement co-ordination (meaning that they were better, for instance, at trapping a football passed to them, dribbling it while swerving around opposing players, and then and kicking the ball accurately into a  net while running forward), but they fell down on activities that required a full appreciation of what was going on, and coming up with nuanced behaviour to cope with it (implying I suppose that women make better politicians and diplomats).

Well, I immediately think of all those countless missed goals. And cricket balls not held. And golf balls sliced into the rough. Men have perfect co-ordination? Ha!

And if women aren't good at co-ordinating their body movements, how come there are ballerinas? And gold medal-winning female gymnasts, and championship-winning ice skaters? And, yes, expert rally drivers? And how come that women have always been so adept at exacting, fiddly tasks like knitting, sewing, painting ceramics, and carefully making lethal ammunition in wartime armaments factories?

I'm not really pooh-poohing the findings of this latest bit of published research, but I do think there are an awful lot of people who want to find 'conclusive proof' that men and women are radically and indisputably different. The really interesting matter is why such a difference has to be found and conclusively demonstrated. Why is there an industry that seeks to separate men and women, and emphasise how unlike they are? Is it to prove that women had best stay away from certain jobs? Or to justify keeping them out? To stop women from becoming surgeons, perhaps? Or more sinisterly, to prove which sex is superior in all practical things that matter?

At any rate, this is a topic that never goes away, and is judged to be perennially fascinating to the general public. Take a look, for instance, at this webpage from the BBC on sex differences: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/sexsecrets/. Or this, about women being the driving force behind romance: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17729478.

For trans people, the orthodoxy is that MTF persons must have female brains, and FTM male brains. But there's not a lot of strong evidence for this yet. I'd like however to think that it's true, at any rate so far as emotional, inter-relational and self-perceptional brain functions are concerned. But as a mere lump of physical tissue, I dare say my brain looks like (and is wired up) very like any bog-standard male brain. That's my personal working hypothesis, until I have a scan that shows otherwise. Just as I assume that my sex chromosomes are XY, until a test shows otherwise.

That physically male brain doesn't of course stop me thinking and behaving in non-male ways. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that ever since embracing a full-time female life, my brain has become 'more female' - perhaps literally creating new neural connections on the female pattern, to overlay what was there before. But this may be just wishful thinking. Perhaps I've simply adapted to new conditions, picked up a few new skills, and acquired some appropriate new habits. All supported by a change in self-perception, and helped along by dropping the redundant male outlook. None of that proves that the grey matter inside my skull has miraculously morphed into a different kind of grey matter.

So (if I'm stuck with it) is this 'male' brain of mine going to preserve some abilities, or emotional defences, lacking in a female brain? Actually, I hope it does, if they are useful abilities and emotional defences, because then I will have an edge when dealing with future problems - or problem people. Remember that I plan to keep my independence, and not go hunting for a partner to help me out. I'll therefore need a degree of clear-headed mental robustness, even hardness, that women with a partner to rely on need not have. If a male brain will give me that, I'm not knocking it.

1 comment:

  1. I'll be able to figure in this argument when I get a brain......LOL. I've always known I didn't think like a bloke though Lucy.

    Shirley Anne x

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