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How different are girls' and boys' brains?

It’s a favorite question of ours…okay, of mine (i.e. Lo’s), and my personal answer is that yes, there are differences, but not as many or as great as our culture presumes. The bias we have as a society actually influences the development of boys’ and girls’ brains (which are elastic) so significantly as they grow that by the time they’re adults there’s much more difference than there would be if we lived in a more egalitarian, less Men-Are-From-Mars world. In other words, it’s a self-fullfilling prophecy. So while there are differences, we would do better to celebrate our similarities, or at least our potential for overlapping skills and desires and tendencies, so that both sexes don’t feel limited by narrow gender roles.

Five researchers debated the question of sex differences in the brain at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Their panel session, “The Promise and Peril of Research on Sex Differences,” was summarized by William Saletan over at Slate. His take? “There is no answer. There’s only a complex, preliminary array of evidence on various questions, and an evolving menu of research to explore those questions further. Let’s not be afraid to pursue the research. And let’s not jump to conclusions.” He outlines ten common mistakes researchers on sex differences need to watch out for, which actually jive with my own conclusion for the most part.

However, when one researcher said his colleagues are so afraid of being called “neurosexists” that they’ve refused to study or acknowledge differences, Saletan offers, “This anxiety about lending credence to sexism was manifest on the panel, as three of the presenters repeatedly emphasized similarities and downplayed differences.” Um, maybe they were doing that not because they feared sexism, but because their research across the board has proven to them that the similarities are greater than the differences. We’ve all got our biases, me and Saletan included. Just sayin’.

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