Uncovering Gender

Women Are Brainy; That's All We Know for Now

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Caryl Rivers says Dr. Louann Brizendine's latest book, "The Male Brain," tosses another log onto the media blaze about men and women having their "natural" places.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.



Caryl Rivers(WOMENSENEWS)--Today, we are just in the early stages of understanding the complexity of the brain.

Small structural differences in the brains of men and women may mean nothing; or they may have significance. For the most part, we just don't know.

What's important is that women don't cede to men the ability to reason, organize and lead, thanks to our "different" brains. If we do, we'll be marching backwards into history.

That's why I'm alarmed to see Dr. Louann Brizendine, a California psychiatrist, come back with more dollops of myth and pseudoscience in her new book, "The Male Brain."

The media swooned over her first book, "The Female Brain," published in 2006, which, like this sequel, is all about how the brains of men and women are so vastly different.

"The Female Brain" got massive coverage, including interviews on most of the TV morning network shows, 20-20 and CNN. It was also featured in The New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and Oprah magazine, among others.

Scientific critics were not so kind. The British journal Nature called it "riddled with scientific errors."

Retraction Required

Others pointed out that Brizendine jumped to conclusions based on tiny samples or very early research, used animal data to discuss human behavior and was sometimes just plain misinformed. She had to remove from the book a claim that women use 20,000 words a day while men use only 7,000. There was harder evidence behind the idea that men and women talk about equally.

The new book is breezy and readable, but has many of the same problems.

Critic Emily Bazelon points out in her excellent New York Times review that, "You'd never know from reading Brizendine that beneath the sea she blithely sails are depths that researchers have only just begun to chart."

Men, Brizendine claims, are rational systemizers and problem solvers who don't get emotion. Women wail desperately at their mates, "You don't understand!" while the men look blank.

Her major citation, Bazelon points out, is a single, very small 2008 brain-scan study of 14 women and 12 men, which found a gender difference in part of a lab experiment that tried to simulate empathy. A great deal of evidence contradicts this tiny study.

Do men lack empathy and fail to understand emotion? Psychologist Faye Crosby of U.C. Santa Cruz says no.

Crosby methodically examined the major, well-designed, scientific studies comparing males and females with regard to empathy, altruism, cooperativeness, nurturance and intimacy. She found "no conclusive evidence to show that men and women differ from one another in the extent to which they attend to and are good at interpersonal relationships." In fact, in a number of the laboratory studies, men responded more strongly internally to emotional stimuli than women, but women show more emotion outwardly.

Vanderbilt University psychologist Ann Kring, who studied findings on sex differences in emotion, said in a 1998 issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that: "It is incorrect to make a blanket statement that women are more emotional than men. It is correct to say that women show their emotions more than men."

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