Your mind is more Lego than Airfix
Are the brains of men and women are ‘wired differently’? Or do we just copy the blueprint that society gives us?
There has been a lot of coverage about the difference between the sexes on the back of research from the University of Philadelphia that concluded that there are major differences in the neural pathways in the brains of men and women.
Men, they say, are wired more front-to-back, women more side-to-side.
"The results establish that male brains are optimized for intrahemispheric and female brains for interhemispheric communication. The developmental trajectories of males and females separate at a young age, demonstrating wide differences during adolescence and adulthood. The observations suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes."
They propose this may explain why women have been found to be better multitaskers.
Of course, this has ramifications for what skills and career proclivities each sex exhibits. And it neatly reinforces gender stereotypes.
However we know that brain connections are not fixed, and that they can - and do - change throughout life.
Because of this it is a huge leap to extrapolate from anatomical differences to try to explain behavioural variation between the sexes.
The research is the equivalent of pointing out that people who do a lot of running have strikingly different looking cells in their leg muscles than people who sit on the couch all day: the differences observed could be entirely the result of enculturation and there could be no genetic differences at all.
So do not take reports with headlines such as “The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’” and “Women better than men at multitasking” at face value. Your mind is more Lego than Airfix.