So a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (paywall) says that men’s and women’s brains are hardwired differently: Men are better at connecting perception to action, women are more intuitive. It draws this conclusion from men’s brains having, on average, more neural interconnections within hemispheres and women’s having more across hemispheres.
Naturally, news organizations have been breathlessly reporting implications of the study here and here and here and elsewhere. But as with most science, it’s not that straightforward. Women and men grow up in a gendered society, and different experiences produce different neurological patterns within the brain. The study does not account for this, so the possible effects of gendered experience go unexplored. The study has gotten some much-needed pushback from scientists such as Cordelia Fine, a professor at the University of Melbourne:
Returning to the popular representations, we can now see a striking disconnect with the actual data. The research provides strong evidence for behavioural similarities between the sexes. It provides no evidence that those modest behavioural sex differences are associated with brain connectivity differences. And, it offers no information about the developmental origins of either behavioural or brain differences.
Yet, the popular press presents it as evidence that “hardwired” sex differences explain why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While this is tediously predictable, what is more surprising is for a study author to push along such misinterpretations, claiming to have found evidence for “hardwired” sex differences, and suggesting that this might explain behavioural sex differences not actually measured in the study, such as in “intuition” skills “linked with being good mothers”.
Overworked journalists too often have to rely on fitting the news into common tropes in order to make sense of it. In this case, the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” narrative is too tempting to resist. At a superficial glance, the study seems to slide right into the frame, so in it goes.