Review – Sophie Scott – Sex On The Brain

Wednesday’s talk was from Professor Sophie Scott, a neuroscience researcher at Cambridge College London. Sophie delivered a lightening fast, enthusiastic talk about gender differences in the brain; are there any?, if there are, what are they?, and most importantly, do they matter?

With a lot of ground to cover, Sophie -who has been in the field for over 20 years-, discussed what we know, and the current limits of what we do/can know. The area of research discussed was that of “Brain-Sex Theory”, which takes the view that there are indeed not only biological differences in the brain, but that these differences result in significant differences between the sexes (as well as those in the LGBT communities). The theory holds that as hormones affect the development of the physical in-utero, hormones also affect the development of the brain, resulting in distinct differences between men and woman.

Sophie pointed out that while there are indeed differences e.g. men’s brains are bigger (controlling for fact that men tend to be larger physically), but women’s brains have more grey matter, the evidence that this makes much -if any-, difference is, shall we say, scant. Likewise, even though at a population level there are some slight differences in the sexes when it comes to tasks such as spatial reasoning (men perform better), and verbal reasoning (women do better), these say nothing about us as individuals.

In addition to the above, Sophie used examples from studies relating to geography, fMRI, meta analysis, the ear (auto acoustic emissions, very interesting stuff in its own right), to gay sheep, honing in on the point that, based on what we currently know, the differences we see between men and women don’t form in the womb, and are -by and large-, cultural.

To put it another way: it would seem that sayings such as, “Boys will be boys”, and “It’s a bit girly”, are more or less self fulfilling axioms.

David H

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