For over two hundred years the myth that men and women are fundamentally different, with very different brains, has perpetuated. Stereotypes that refuse to be debunked often include the notions that women tend to think more emotionally, and that men are more logistically and analytically wired.
Gina Rippon, neuroscientist and author, argues that this myth, rather than being dismissed by recent scientific research, has been reinforced by scientists misinterpreting brain scans. The apparent structural differences observed have been overblown says Rippon, especially with regards to the corpus callosum. Some studies have found this pathway, which links the left and right sides of the brain, to be larger in women and have falsely linked this to a larger transferral from the ‘emotional’ right hemisphere to the ‘rational’ left. Rippon explains how rudimentary methods still are for measuring the sizes of areas of brains, so this finding is far from reliable. She also poses that, whilst women are often thought of as having smaller and therefore inferior brains to men, the sizes often vary hugely within the genders, with women just as likely to have bigger brains than men and visa verse. This potentially more effective corpus callosum has also been used to explain away the larger number of men pursuing careers in STEM subjects and winning Noble Prizes, when this is more likely, in Rippon’s eyes, to be due to the impact predefined gender roles on women.
Rippon’s research also demystifies the ideas around female hormones and their huge impact on female cognitive function. In the 30s, ‘premenstrual syndrome’ was considered to have a detrimental effect on women, causing 'temperamental' behaviour, however Rippon reports that the cognitive and emotional changes that women believe they experience are actually psychosomatic. In fact, positive behavioural changes, such as improved cognitive processing, have been found to be connected to women's periods.
Rippon states that the mental differences between males and females are, in fact, slighter than the differences within each gender. The strongest influencer on how our brains are formed, Rippon argues, is societal – brains are not gendered, it is the world that shapes them into ‘male’ and ‘female’.
Those interested in studying Psychology, Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, or Medicine might like to further investigate the science around notions of gender difference in the brain by reading Rippon's books: The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience and Gender and our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds.
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