Don’t fall for the neuro-sense on gendered brains
Did you click on this article because you saw a picture of a brain? Does it sound more convincing because of the picture? You are not alone, studies have shown that even people with a background in psychology find it difficult to distinguish credibility from quackery when the results are accompanied by a brain image. I’m sorry to tell you, but there is a lot of neuro-nonsense and we all fall into the trap more often than we should.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
I am increasingly concerned about emerging science, used by unqualified laypersons, as evidence of exclusion. This week saw another press article arguing from the author’s personal experience that because her brothers loved math and she preferred art, girls are inherently biologically different and likely lack the natural skills for a career in STEM.
She suggests that because young infants show preferences for certain toys, these “male” and “female” preferences should be biological rather than the result of all the societal messages to which children are subjected. According to the author, we have created the conditions for girls to act as victims of sociological forces, when in reality the differences are real and we must accept them. The older I get, the more I realize how sensitive young women are to this kind of integrated leadership; I totally fell for myself before motherhood.
The author attempts to use neurodiverse conditions to get his point across. She says the unbalanced gender prevalence rates of Tourette’s syndrome are an indicator that women’s brains are different because apparently you “can’t misdiagnose Tourette’s.” To use this misleading statement as a justification that girls are not cut out for science and math, I just cannot accept.
She rightly points out that the lower rates of ADHD and autism diagnoses in women have been explained by a more mature field of research which has found that girls are just better at masking themselves, and in fact they suffer from it. higher rates of anxiety, eating disorders and depression. Gilles de la Tourette syndrome researchers themselves warn that access to diagnostic services, self-confidence and many other social factors affect diagnosis. Plus, being a girl might not be the only social category that teaches you to hide, to hold onto things, to worry about what people think of you, to redirect your impulses inward, to treat yourself, etc.
Gilles de la Tourette syndrome also has a lower prevalence for Hispanic and black children, higher for higher-income non-Hispanic whites. Should we use this data to suggest that Hispanic and black brains are different from white brains? Absolutely not! It just shows that correlation is not equal to causation.
Confirmatory bias in neuroscience
As a professor of cognitive neuroscience, Gina Rippon expresses it in her book ‘The gendered brain‘, neuroscience is an immature field that still asks the wrong questions.
The majority of studies in neuroscience are based on small samples (as imaging studies are still very expensive to conduct) and they require visual interpretation and mapping. The small differences between the fully mature brains of men and women are statistically significant and quite expected, given the differences in our lives. Even before birth, knowing whether you are carrying a girl or a boy changes the way mothers talk to their tummies. Right off the bat, we sing, wear, tease and play with boys differently than girls. And our brains are sponges, they soak up our surroundings and grow accordingly – that’s why London taxi drivers have enlarged seahorses due to improved navigation skills and neglected children have atrophied in several regions. The effects of lived experiences on our brains should not be ignored. If you talk to girls a lot and throw boys out, one will develop improved verbal skills and the other will develop improved spatial reasoning.
Professor Rippon notes that from the moment scientists started examining brains, we collected evidence to support our biases and to strengthen the trustworthiness of the cultural differences we respect. In her book, she describes the first attempts to justify the differences based on what we could see at the time – size, shape and brain-to-body ratio, location of the bumps on the head. All of this was gloriously debunked by John Stuart Mill who pointed out that if this were true tall men must be smarter than short men and Chihuahuas would be the smartest dogs. I don’t know what the studies and articles on gender differences are for, other than reassuring the authors that their own experience is correct, it smacks of confirmation bias and that’s bad science.
Don’t fall for neuro-nonsense
There is no scientific evidence to support a workplace that awards people the best positions in science, technology, and finance on the basis of a social identity category. Be a neuro-skeptic and apply critical thinking to arbitrarily reporting the differences between types of people. We don’t know enough about brain development to make these kinds of predictive choices. It is extremely unlikely that we will ever do this because even now the reported overlap between the genders (men who can listen, women who can write code) is so large that you will still have to observe a job seeker as an individual. to judge its merit. Random juxtaposition of correlational data won’t help us recruit the best thinkers for STEM, or even sort out the right thinkers for social work and creative writing.
Role models are essential
So what will work, to remove barriers to access and select the right people for the right roles, when that means overcoming gender stereotypes? Psychological research has demonstrated the effect of “Stereotype threatWhich means if you are tested on something that your gender / race / class is supposed to hurt, you will underperform. Some studies have shown that simply asking math test takers to note their gender at the top of the form will result in lower average scores for groups of women. This is a psychological effect called “priming“And it works both ways. Behavior models act as a form of positive priming, letting us know that our category can be successful, which in turn will create more success. That’s why we need more. than a few women scientists in high school programs to prepare the next generation of STEM innovators of both sexes.
At work, Deloitte research indicated when leadership is inclusive, companies achieve increased performance, effective decision-making and collaboration while reducing absences. Business leaders can showcase the talents of diverse employees and increase the visibility of role models to attract talent from entry level to senior careers.
We know that our behavior as leaders can dramatically affect the opportunities for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ + people in STEM careers. The world is waking up to the news that diversity is about agility, flexibility and performance: Goldman Sachs recently announced that they will not invest in companies that lack diverse representation on their boards of directors. As inclusive organizations rapidly poach top young talent, it won’t be long before brain gender differences seem as silly as assessing intelligence by bumps on the head.