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Medicine Science

The Brains of Men and Women Aren't Really That Different, Study Finds (sciencemag.org) 163

sciencehabit writes: In the mid-19th century, researchers claimed they could tell the sex of an individual just by looking at their disembodied brain. But a new study (abstract) finds that human brains do not fit neatly into "male" and "female" categories. Indeed, all of our brains seem to share a patchwork of forms; some that are more common in males, others that are more common in females, and some that are common to both. The findings could change how scientists study the brain and even how society defines gender.
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The Brains of Men and Women Aren't Really That Different, Study Finds

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  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:32PM (#51036379)
    Zombies agree, they're both tasty.
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:35PM (#51036399)

    I thought it was long-known that what might be true on a general basis has poor predictive value on an individual basis when it came to just about anything dealing with the brain.

    • Exactly. I'm not sure why yet another study confirming this is a big deal, or why it's a big deal when people such as Larry Summers make statements that, yes, there are tendencies for gender differences when talking about brains on a general basis, even if you can't make a specific prediction about any one individual based on that general tendency.
      • Exactly. I'm not sure why yet another study confirming this is a big deal, or why it's a big deal when people such as Larry Summers make statements that, yes, there are tendencies for gender differences when talking about brains on a general basis, even if you can't make a specific prediction about any one individual based on that general tendency.

        This one is from Tel Aviv University. Maybe it is a more useful study for people to cite who are having gender policy discussions within various Jewish communities.

        (Although it will not be enough to change certain Orthodox policies, like IIRC women don't count when determining if you have a quorum for a prayer.)

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @05:43PM (#51036875) Homepage

      There've been lots of studies finding "psychological differences between the sexes". But when you look into them the statistical correlations are usually terribly weak, barely above statistical significance. And you have to question how much you can trust them anyway. Remember that metastudy that showed that half of all psychological studies can't be reproduced? I downloaded their study data. Every topic related to gender differences was in the "couldn't be reproduced" category. Now, of course that's a tiny fraction of all research that they attempted to reproduce. There surely are psychological differences, even ones that aren't pure upbringing/society related. But its important not to overplay the amount or degree of them.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <[slashdot] [at] [worf.net]> on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @06:10PM (#51037061)

        There've been lots of studies finding "psychological differences between the sexes". But when you look into them the statistical correlations are usually terribly weak, barely above statistical significance. And you have to question how much you can trust them anyway. Remember that metastudy that showed that half of all psychological studies can't be reproduced? I downloaded their study data. Every topic related to gender differences was in the "couldn't be reproduced" category. Now, of course that's a tiny fraction of all research that they attempted to reproduce. There surely are psychological differences, even ones that aren't pure upbringing/society related. But its important not to overplay the amount or degree of them.

        I'm not surprised, really.

        Everyone basically starts out a female from conception - the X chromosome asserts itself during the first 5-6 weeks before the Y chromosome (only in males) starts to activate, at which point the SRY gene activates that inhibits certain genes in the X chromosome and to start turning you male. The developing ovaries descend and become the testes, the clitoris transforms into the penis.

        And with that in mind, it should be obvious why there are trans-gendered or bisexual people as well - a fallout of the natural process of gestation and sometimes, things don't always go completely as planned.

        Life is complicated. And differences really are fairly minor.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        The differences in brains genetically will not be that different, the differences in brains developmentally ie how they change over time will be more significantly different. So differences in hormones produces changes in behaviour and thought and this results in different brain development, some bits get exercised more than other bits and hence develop further over time whilst less exercised bit tend to diminish over time. These tendencies will vary with social environmental conditions and hence further d

      • There've been lots of studies finding "psychological differences between the sexes". But when you look into them the statistical correlations are usually terribly weak, barely above statistical significance.

        Personally, I believe most of the differences stem from hormonal differences and environment, not from structural differences. If we could have two childs, both with different sex, but the same hormonal levels and the exact same environment while growing I doubt there would be much of any difference.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          Gestational testosterone levels are the best indicator, even when you filter out the sexes. Male with low testosterone, very likely to be feminine. Female with high testosterone, very likely to be masculine. Not just how one acts, but what one finds interesting.
  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:37PM (#51036413)

    This is about structural differences. I imagine the chemical/hormonal differences remain... different?

    • Exactly - these scans can't see how they are interconnected - only the gross physical structure.

      The actual DNA information for making a brain isn't that much - it is the interconnections that are formed that make it the úber complex structure that it is. These connections are effected by hormones as well as stimulus.

      Also - MRI images are not very useful - they can't see a lot of things. Diffuse damage from ME is invisible, yet the damage is there. Just because it uses a computer, is complex, white lab

      • But still, on most any mesure, on average, when you find that men are more something than women are, you also find that some women are more that thing than some men are. And vice versa.

    • You mean female brains are bathed in estrogen and males in testosterone and that has an effect? Only if you disregard politics.

  • by siphonophore ( 158996 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:38PM (#51036423)

    ...is that we lack the measurement tools to discern the brain structures that influence macro phenomena.

    • It doesn't prove that. It doesn't disprove it either. It makes no claims on that whatsoever.

      Interestingly, this phrase shows up early in the article: “Nobody has had a way of quantifying this before,” which indicates that previous claims were invalid, based on supposition and assumption rather than data. They were at best, theories, in the scientific sense of the word, but lacked a mechanism to test.

      Should you assume that previous claims were valid, even without proof, I can see how you might

      • âoeNobody has had a way of quantifying this before,â which indicates that previous claims were invalid

        No it does not indicate that.

        Previously, "In the mid-19th century, researchers claimed they could tell the sex of an individual just by looking at their disembodied brain."

        To show that that claim is invalid, you have to demonstrate that those researchers had a high failure rate using a disembodied brain to determine an individual's sex.

        The existence of a new measurement tool is insufficient to invalidate that claim - what if you check their prediction rate and find that it's 100% correct? That woul

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Usually when knowledge about a subject is low the statement is: "Oh, this looks simple".
    As knowledge grows so does the intricacies.
    To me, this statement tells me that we still don't know much still about the human brain.
    Any brain-scan with the resolution in the million of neurons category is not going to tell you much.
    It's like viewing "Mona Lisa" through a 16 pixel display; remarkably similar to the "Isleworth Mona Lisa".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...any guy who claims the *software* isn't, clearly has never met a woman...

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:41PM (#51036439)

    In the mid-19th century, researchers claimed they could tell the sex of an individual just by looking at their disembodied brain.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck's?

    Igor: No.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?

    Igor: Then you won't be angry?

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.

    Igor: Abby someone.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?

    Igor: Abby... Normal.

    Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby Normal?

    Igor: I'm almost sure that was the name.

  • How about we agree on what is meant by "male" and "female" before going off on some wild study? If the study *had* shown a discernable difference, which gender would it have expected Caitlin Jenner's brain to show up as?

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "which gender would it have expected Caitlin Jenner's brain to show up as?"

      You're begging the question. Brains seem to be missing from the Kardashian/Jenner gene pool.
    • Their definition of male and female is indicated to be 'sex' - that is, biological gender, as opposed to the social concept of gender. Pretty clearly stated.

      What they're attempting to do is find out if there are any consistent trends within each group of biological genders that contrast with each other, that can be used to indicate a difference between biological genders. As they found none, speculation on what a trans-woman's brain would be, if they had found it is as useful as speculating on the type of

      • You say that as if you didn't know that T rex showed an affinity for subtle plaids, especially in its eveningwear. Heck, I thought even amateur paleontologists knew that!

    • Now there you go again: trying to put human beings into just one of two gender categories. That's like trying to put a round peg into a vertical hole...

    • MRI scans of transgender people have consistently shown that transgender peoples brains show the same patterns as those of the gender they identify as, Caitlyn's patterns would show up as female on a scan.

      If they focus on just sexuality section, that too follows the same pattern, gay men and straight women show up the same.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sexconker ( 1179573 )

        MRI scans of transgender people have consistently shown that transgender peoples brains show the same patterns as those of the gender they identify as, Caitlyn's patterns would show up as female on a scan.

        If they focus on just sexuality section, that too follows the same pattern, gay men and straight women show up the same.

        The story you're posting on is literally fucking claiming that MRI scans show barely any difference between the brains of men and women.
        Yet you're literally fucking claiming that MRI scans can match transsexual brains to one of two distinct genders.

        You can't have it both ways, SJWs.
        If you want to push your narrative that transsexuals have a brain of the gender they want to be but they're trapped in the wrong body, you have to define and differentiate the brains of men and women.
        If you want to push your narr

        • You read a blurb of a summary or the summary, and a bad one at that.
          The author did a disservice titling the article as he/she did, and falsely makes the claim that they could not identify a male or female brain as that is not what the study found.

          From the actual study's own abstract:
          “Our study demonstrates that, although there are sex/gender differences in the brain, human brains do not belong to one of two distinct categories: male brain/female brain. “ This doesn't mean you cannot loo
    • Is "ugly and creepy" a gender?

      I'm not particularly gay but he was much better looking when he was Bruce.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The findings could change how scientists study the brain and even how society defines gender."

    Penis = Male
    Vagina = Female

    Failing that:
    XX = female
    XY = male

    Failing that:
    Into the volcano you go!

    See? Simple.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Penis = Male
      Vagina = Female

      And what about somebody who loses their penis in an accident? Are they no longer male? Do they become female, or do they become some unspecified third option? What about a transsexual who gets sex reassignment surgery - the penis is removed, but they don't have a "real" vagina, it's man-made. What about people with undifferentiated or underdeveloped sexual organs, or hermaphroditic characteristics?

      Failing that:
      XX = female
      XY = male

      And what about XX males, XY females, and the mu

      • Actually science has isolated the individual gene [wikipedia.org] that's responsible for sex differentiation in humans. Technically it's possible for it to end up on an X chromosome or be absent from a Y chromosome, but it's very unlikely which is why such things aren't seen often. Also, many of the aberrations from the XX / XY dichotomy result in sterility, which does go a rather long way towards suggesting humans and mammals in general are sexually dimorphic and that while it's possible to exist outside of that binary, i
      • If you can't breed you're sexless.
        From prepubescents to crones to the victims of unfortunate smelting accidents to the majority of ants and bees to the majority of Slashdot posters.
        If you can't breed you're sexless.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by gweihir ( 88907 )

      This gender-BS is now pervasive. Of course what these people want is not attainable as it is nonsense. That does not stop them from predicting/claiming/demanding that they are right at every occasion.

  • by gorim ( 700913 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:47PM (#51036495)
    The study identified several regions of the brain that are "male" vs "female" in nature. Hence, there are variations in structures in those regions that do tend to dominate on one gender vs another. However, what the study found is that there is no one "combination" of such regions that statistically dominates to define a definite male or female brain, and that each individual person possesses variation between the two types.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah this is spin. Slashdot went from being a site that loved hardcore science to one that now worships at the altar of political correctness, and this is super politically correct.

      Another way of saying "the brains of men and women aren't really that different" is to say "the brains of men and women are different". But the latter will get you dirty looks from a lot of issue advocates.

      • Slashdot went from being a site that loved hardcore science to one that now worships at the altar of political correctness, and this is super politically correct

        You don't think the National Academy of Science is "hardcore science"?

        Here is the supporting information from the peer-reviewed article, and this dope doesn't think it's "hardcore science".

        http://www.pnas.org/content/su... [pnas.org]

    • What's utterly fascinating is that the brains of transgender people look like and work like the gender they self-report. It's consistent with the early onset and fixity of their gender identity if it's confirmed to be a brain setting.

      If you follow only one link from this bibliography, make it the one to Zhou et. al.'s Nature article.
      http://aebrain.blogspot.com/p/... [blogspot.com]

      That said, the remarkable thing about male and female brains is how similar they are. It's a curious phenomenon how hard people will work to "fi

    • It's a partial-information argument--cherry picking. Not just for what you said, but for the methodology used: it's as if they claimed male and female bodies aren't really different because they all have heads, arms, and legs.

      Neurological studies have examined the way information transmits across the brain--front to back or side to side--and found enormous differences between male and female humans. They research the difference in development of various areas of the brain, which can be either genetic o

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:49PM (#51036507)
    and the New and Improved xyyy.
  • by microbox ( 704317 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:51PM (#51036513)
    Gee... these measures vary continously between A and B. Therefore there is no A and no B. /barf. What would be interesting is if there were no way predict sex (greater than chance) from brain structures. That is a strong result. This is just junk dressed up as a strong result, but it isn't strong at all.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      What would be interesting is if there were no way predict sex (greater than chance) from brain structures.

      What it sounds like they're saying, based on skimming the abstract, is that there isn't, for a large proportion of brains.

      Gee... these measures vary continously between A and B. Therefore there is no A and no B.

      More like "A and B correlate statistically with X and Y, as do C-D, E-F, and G-H, and I-J, but compared all at once, A-B, C-D, E-F, G-H, and I-J don't correlate with one another reliably."

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2015 @04:51PM (#51036517)
    Now they'll have to open with "What's the deal with airline food?"
  • by Anonymous Coward

    SCIENTISTS UNCOVER A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SEXES
    Sex does matter: key molecular process in brain is different in males and females

    - See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2015/08/scientists-uncover-a-difference-between-the-sexes.html#sthash.kQJxCnEr.dpuf

    • Hush.... There's an agenda at play.
    • Yes but this study looks at brain structure, not brain function. There are two types of brain scan, one gives you information on brain structure the other gives you information on brain activity. Gender determines the hormonal soup your neurons swim in.
  • I find this work dubious for the fact that it's conclusion is (or can be reformulated as) a negative: there's not much difference between male and female brains. All this suggests is that the authors were unable to find a consistent algorithm for deciding whether a brain is male or female. Now there are whole disciplines which can come up with different ways to differentiate the two (most notably data science), so I propose releasing the data, and then we'll whether someone finds that algorithm, and how wel
    • This data is not sufficient to conclude that the difference between male and female brains is minimal, no matter how you analyze it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So basically its a spectrum with some brains that are very much "male" and some that are very much "female" and some stuff in between, and this is surprising why?

    Most humans also fall somewhere in that spectrum, with some people with a penis being very much "male" and some much closer to "female" in both behavior as well as looks. While it means that some brains of males can look almost female, this doesn't mean that the notion of male or female is suddenly totally gone. There is still a difference to be fo

  • They're doing this on purpose????

  • This is junk science that makes a lot of assumptions on how the brain is supposed to be, then uses it's pointless conclusion to try to create social change. Sounds more like propaganda than science to me.
  • Every cell in the brain of a man has an x and a y chromosome. Every cell in the brain of a woman has two x chromosomes. Also, every brain of a woman is inside the head of a woman. While every brain of a man is inside the head of a man.
    • Also, every brain of a woman is inside the head of a woman. While every brain of a man is inside the head of a man.

      Every now and then, the thinking part of a man is inside the body of a woman.

      • And is enveloped by the thinking part of a woman. Easy to play that game.

        • And is enveloped by the thinking part of a woman. Easy to play that game.

          Nope, as a true Slashdotter I can assure you that playing "that game" is not easy. It's taken me years to get any.

  • But God knows they don't react the same. Women, generally act/think with the emotional side of the brain. Men, generally act/think with the logical side of the brain. Now before all the women's lib people start in, I SAID GENERALLY.
  • Well it used to be that men were the 'breadwinners' and were there to protect their women which led to older guys being partnered to younger women Ive noticed the opposite starting to happen ok not across the board but just look on tv with shows like cougar town and sex in the city where it is increasingly the older women dating younger guys and being the provider. Its even happening on dating sites not just tv shows like http://www.freecougarcontacts.... [freecougarcontacts.com] - basically older women looking for younger guys, bo
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The conclusion has no relationship with the results from the study, they have to re-interpret the results passing them through their ideological funnel to reach the answer they wanted to get in the first place, which is a wrong one. They even acknowledge that neuroscientists are still able to spot the difference between a male and a female brain in plain sight, and because this is a hard fact, the entire argument that there are no substantial differences in the brains between the sexes becomes moot and dis-

  • Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Get over it, idiots.

                            mark

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @01:51PM (#51043173) Homepage Journal

    19th century scientists claimed they could identify the sex of a person based solely on their disembodied genitalia.

    However, as 21st century gender scientists know, sex reassignment surgery would utterly befuddle such no-nothing pseud-scientists from the bad old days.

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian

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