#1 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, December 5th, 2013 11:45
#2 By: newliminted, December 5th, 2013 11:58
Does "evidence that men move more than women do inside an MRI machine" support the idea that mens' brains are different from ladies'?
#3 By: TheGlitchEcliptic, December 5th, 2013 12:10
It might support the idea that men are generally larger and bulkier than women, and consequently fit more snugly and uncomfortably into MRI machines.
Or it might support the idea that men are generally more restless than women, perhaps due to physiological differences, or perhaps due to cultural conditioning, or perhaps for any number of other reasons.
Or it might support the idea that men are secretly plotting, as a sex, to subtly sabotage MRI readings!
#4 By: Christopher Waldrop, December 5th, 2013 12:33
I know someone who argues against same-sex couples being allowed to adopt. When asked to back up his argument with evidence he consistently claims that MRIs prove there are significant differences between male and female brains. From that it's still a huge leap to claim that, even if such differences exist, they mean that children must have a parent of each gender. He's not going to like this, and I can't say I'm sorry.
#5 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, December 5th, 2013 12:38
I'm assuming that the IRB won't approve my "stiff hit of curare and intubation" procedure for normalizing movement in the MRI across test groups?
#6 By: fuzzyfuzzyfungus, December 5th, 2013 12:41
It could; but a fair amount of (minimally purposeful) movement is handled pretty far down in the brainstem, or even peripherally. You'd have to nail down where the impulses driving the additional movement are coming from.
#7 By: Mellivora Capensis, December 5th, 2013 12:58
More gender stereotypes!
Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can,
seldom found in women,
never found in men.
#8 By: Robert Mahaney, December 5th, 2013 13:07
Sorry, Maggie . . . but the way that you presented this study was incredibly misleading. Sure, it has been criticized in the blogosphere, but that is a rather superficial level of critique. In fact, the piece that you cite assumes that these differences are real . . . but that they are caused by cultural gender expectations. This is problematic.
To claim that these are "gender" differences is as premature as to claim they are evolved sex differences. There is no evidence that these are culturally driven at all. The confirmation bias that people on both sides of this are displaying (social constructionist v. evolutionary psychology types) is disappointing. The piece that you cited moves from reservations about method to a culture based explanation with no justification. What is this biased blog piece evidence of? At best, it is evidence of bias.
I had a conversation with a prominent neuroscientist that I know about the paper, she echoes some aspects of you are writing but not all. Basically, when she runs an EEG or fmri study of 20-25 people, there is no effect for sex. However, she believes that the sample size (~900 participants) and technique (DTI and network analyses) imply that there are SUBTLE trends at the group level. But she dares anyone to look at a male and female brain and tell them apart.
We have a subtle, but real difference in this sample at the group level. We also have subtle, but real differences on cognitive tasks between sexes at the group level. In this case, this is a PROBABILISTIC and not DETERMINISTIC relationship between sex and brain connectivity patterns. Little is understood about causality. To claim that this is "gender" is as reckless as to claim that this is an evolved pattern. To rule either out in an a priori fashion is unscientific . . . and based on ideological preference. And uninformed comments about "neurosexism" (common in the blogosphere over the past 2 days) simply display ignorance and a closed mind.
#9 By: Smut Clyde, December 5th, 2013 18:44
The confirmation bias that people on both sides of this are displaying (social constructionist v. evolutionary psychology types) is disappointing.
However, only the latter perspective is represented in popular journalism. I have seen any number of headlines describing the observed differences as "hard-wired", and none even mentioning the possibility that they arose from differences in behaviour.
That's pretty strong evidence for the existence of neurosexism.
#10 By: agonist, December 5th, 2013 19:08
I had a brain MRI and the experience was terrible. My doctor offered me a sedative but I acted very manly and said I didn't need one, that I wasn't any more claustrophobic than the average person.
The moment I slid head first into the tube, I knew I had made a mistake. The tube wall was so close to my face, so very much closer than I ever could have possibly imagined it would be. I immediately knew I was in trouble, so I shut my eyes, kept utterly still, and focused on the fact that my legs were still outside the machine.
After that eight minute eternity, I now tell everyone to accept the drugs or go to a place that has an open MRI machine.
#11 By: Robert Mahaney, December 5th, 2013 20:52
Your reply is incoherent.
Sexism in the media . . . sure. But the charges I have seen from the blogosphere ARE NOT critiquing the coverage. Instead, they are attacking the study. So your reply doesn't hold. In this sample of 900 participants, there is a subtle difference in brain connectivity between the male and female participants. That is not attributable to 'neurosexism.'
All of the blogs on the left that I have looked at are similar to the one cited in this post. They attack the study. They press ad hominem attacks against the researchers. They try and dismiss valid results that complicate the blogger's partisan stance.
How is this different than climate denial?
How is it different than the denial of evolution?
Oh, I know why. Because you agree the silencing of this science.
#12 By: Smut Clyde, December 5th, 2013 21:22
I criticized the media coverage to the report, and proposed that it contained 'neurosexism'. I said nothing to either criticise or defend the bloggosphere. However, you went off anyway off on a comparison with climate denial / evolution denial.
I hope you feel better now.
#13 By: Jardine, December 5th, 2013 21:23
Or evidence of journalists who just repeat anything a press release says.
#14 By: Smut Clyde, December 5th, 2013 21:55
Looking at the PNAS paper itself, I see that it explicitly claims that the difference is evolved. It explicitly takes an evolutionary-biology stance. From the Abstract:
Sex differences in human behavior show adaptive complementarity [...]
female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes
Evidently the "ideological preference" is not limited to the bloggospheric response.
#15 By: Robert Mahaney, December 5th, 2013 22:16
Yes. And me pissing you off got you to read the paper, which is awesome.
The authors do believe that these might be evolved patterns. Given the current state of knowledge, that is a reasonable hypothesis. That doesn't mean that it is correct. It also doesn't follow that this is a sexist position. To acknowledge that I have certain 2ndary sexual characteristics and my sister has others AND that these are evolved is not sexist.
I know a number of bioanthropologists that believe it can be attributed to cultural factors. Fact is, there is not enough data to really prefer one or the other. I prefer a more complex interaction . . . cultural/evolutionary neuroscience tends to happen this way. In fact, the data in this study imply complexity. A certain element is probably evolutionary . . . and some aspects of it are definitely ontogenic or 'cultural.' As far as I understand the literature, this is related to which hormones you are exposed to in the womb. It is important to note that it is not a simple issue of male or female. In some cases, females are exposed to elevated testerone levels and vice versa.
Also, there is more than one way to skin a cat (if you are in to that?) . . . you can have very similar cognitive outcomes and behaviors emerge from differently structured computational systems. In other words, it could be the case that these differences don't matter. Based on evidence from paleoneurology and comparative neuroscience, I don't favor this hypothesis. But it is a real possibility.
But my point in dealing with colleagues and others is this . . . there is a real pattern (in this sample). The pattern (in this sample) is not sexist. I don't believe that the scientists were (She is a woman!). If we are talking about the media . . . some of the coverage definitely is. This could be do to active misogyny or to an oversimplification of the results,
If we are concerned about how the media uses these results, that is another and more difficult issue. But there are inconvenient truths. I don't know how denying them helps anyone.
#16 By: Smut Clyde, December 5th, 2013 22:32
And me pissing you off got you to read the paper, which is awesome.
Please reassure me that you will only use your powers for good!
#17 By: Robert Mahaney, December 5th, 2013 22:33
#18 By: Maggie Koerth-Baker, December 10th, 2013 11:45
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