Men and women’s brains end up a bit different

A newly published study, “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain”, shows that male and female brains exhibit distinct patterns in the way neurons are connected to each other.

One could suggest the headline, Gender stereotypes map directly affect the growing brain, tenuously extrapolated from this paragraph in the Independent, a variant of which is also in the Guardian:

The research was carried out on 949 individuals — 521 females and 428 males — aged between 8 and 22. The brain differences between the sexes only became apparent after adolescence, the study found.

Rather than adopting my posited headline, the press have gone with the usual stereotyping tropes from the Attracting Clicks 101 course notes. Attempting to sound factual, the Guardian puts it as, Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal. The Independent goes for the absurd: The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’.

At this point, I note that none of us are qualified to draw any of the conclusions in these three headlines from the study in question. Thankfully, there is more qualified commentary on Mindhacks, and by Cordelia Fine in New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?.

Update, 2013-12-17: Neuroskeptic has some more commentary in, Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers.

While none of us may be particularly qualified for the above, I think there’s strong evidence that I should be trusted more than the Independent’s science section. It uncritically “reported” the following balderdash as the words of an expert last month:

While the religious would argue that life on earth is a mere warm up for an eternity spent in heaven or hell, and many scientists would dismiss the concept for lack of proof — one expert claims he has definitive evidence to confirm once and for all that there is indeed life after death.

The answer, Professor Robert Lanza says, lies in quantum physics – specifically the theory of biocentrism. The scientist, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, says the evidence lies in the idea that the concept of death is a mere figment of our consciousness.

Professor Lanza says biocentrism explains that the universe only exists because of an individual’s consciousness of it — essentially life and biology are central to reality, which in turn creates the universe; the universe itself does not create life. The same applies to the concepts of space and time, which Professor Lanza describes as “simply tools of the mind”.

Indeed. Ridiculous theory suggests thing, Independent’s framing posits this as “evidence” from an “expert” for thing. Need I say more about the trustworthiness of the Independent’s science section?

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