Hardwiring gender differences

A new study showing that a key part of the brain involved in processing emotionally influenced memories acts differently in men and women came out last week. Fascinating stuff:

The finding led to an unexpected discovery: Many brain areas communicating with the amygdala in men are engaged with and responding to the external environment. For example, the visual cortex is responsible for vision, while the striatum coordinates motor actions. Conversely, many regions connected to the left-hemisphere amygdala in women control aspects of the environment within the body. Both the insular cortex and the hypothalamus, for example, receive strong input from the sensors inside the body.

“Throughout evolution, women have had to deal with a number of internal stressors, such as childbirth, that men haven’t had to experience,” Cahill said. “What is fascinating about this is the brain seems to have evolved to be in tune with those different stressors.”

The people performing the actual study were excited about the findings because they hoped to use the information to look at how treatments of various psychiatric disorders might differ for the genders. Completely legitimate use of a study like this -- what's worrisome is when other people start using information like these findings to make excuses for cultural inequality. One such critique came straight out of Sex Drive Daily, Wired.com's blog about sex, technology and science. Here's Regina Lynn's interpretation of the study:
It's why men don't know they have to eat, they just get cranky until a woman feeds them. It's why women are generally more in tune with our health, while men are more aware of what kind of motorcycle just roared by.

But because my mind is on sex, I think this could also help account for the truth behind the cliche that men look at porn and women read romance novels.


First, let's just let the "until a woman feeds him" comment go, and pretend that it's 2006 and men are feeding themselves fairly well on their own these days. What's most disturbing is how quickly some people can draw correlations to cultural assumptions (which aren't even necessarily true; I don't know any women that read romance novels, for example) and turn them into causation, making it thus easier to accept the status quo of The Way Things Are Because Science Said So. The solid science of the study proves none of these points. Lynn's analysis is bunk, so let's hope that the fundies don't catch wind of this one...

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