Forget the theory that men are from Mars and women from Venus – our brains are the same, an expert insists. Neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon says the sexes are not ‘hardwired’ in different ways and there is no evidence that men are innately better at reading maps or that women are better at multi-tasking.
Any difference is due to society’s idea of gender, not to biology, and is deterring a generation of women from becoming scientists, she warns. Professor Rippon, of Aston University, Birmingham, said differences in the brain are formed in childhood by divisions in the games girls and boys play and stereotypes they conform to. The scientist said the human brain is much more malleable than we think.
She highlighted recent research which showed that women given a Tetris console game to play for three months displayed fundamental changes in their brain structure.
The Californian study found that women who regularly played the game – which involves manipulating shapes in a logical way – had grown part of their brain associated with spatial skills.
It showed that the brain changes far more regularly than we think and is affected by stereotypes and attitudes – nurture not nature – all the way through life, she said.
‘If you just look at gender differences – and not their experiences in life – then, yes, you might find differences. But the brains of men and women are much more similar than they are different.’
Professor Rippon, who will address the British Science Festival in Birmingham on Sunday, added: ‘We really cannot afford to sit back and accept the “essentialist” view that girls are not going to be interested in science subjects because of some “brain deficiency”.
‘We need more trained scientists and engineers but 50 per cent of our pool of talent is not engaging. ‘People who could study these subjects or do these jobs are choosing not to.
‘This must not be explained away by misguided and misleading explanations in terms of unchangeable biological characteristics, or references to “the natural order of things”.’
Her views – for which she has been labelled a ‘gender difference denier’ – are contradicted by a prominent study published last year. The study, in which the brains of 949 young men and women were scanned at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested that women had better connections between the left and right-hand sides of the brain, while men had better links between the front and back. The authors claimed their findings demonstrated that women are better disposed to deal with ‘analytical’ and ‘intuitive’ tasks at the same time. Men, meanwhile, were better at complex motor skills, they said.
Professor Rippon dismissed the study as having neglected the idea that these changes were caused by nurture – not nature – and said there is no such thing as a ‘hardwired’ brain. ‘There is quite a lot of thoughtless science being done and quite a lot of overenthusiastic presenting. If you just look at gender differences – and not their experiences in life – then yes you might find differences. ‘But the brains of men and women are much more similar than they are different.’
Well, well, well, this should screw up some more psychological theories……………..