Thursday, January 13, 2011

Word of the Day: Neuroplasticity

The Truth about Boys and Girls by Lise Eliot

In Brief:
Boys and girls are different, but most psychological sex differences are not especially large. For example, gaps in intellectual performance, empathy and even most types of aggression are generally much narrower than the disparity in adult height, in which the average man is taller than 99 percent of women.

Researchers have found very few large-scale differences between boys and girls in brain structure or function. Boys have larger brains, and girls’ brains finish growing earlier than boys’ do. But neither of these findings explains why boys are more active and girls more verbal or reveals a plausible basis for any of the other emotional and cognitive differences between the sexes.

Experience itself changes brain structure and function. Most sex differences start out small—as mere biases in temperament and play style—but are amplified as children’s pink- or blue-tinted brains meet our gender-infused culture.
The whole article is available online if you have institutional access.

Also, watch a video of Eliot talking about her brain research here. The video is interesting, but it's profoundly ironic that it's sponsored by the very Dove chocolates that feature the intensely stereotypical and somewhat misogynist quotations geared toward women. That's what I call delicious irony.

I would expound more on this, but now that chocolate has been mentioned I've gotta go eat some and then go shoe shoppin' with my 9% smaller lady-brain. Ta-ta for now!


  1. It is an awesome word. I plan to use this article in a course next semester, and now I'm thinking I should call the unit "Neuroplasticity" in the syllabus. It sounds so official and hard-core.

  2. ohSusanna1/13/2011

    This is like the blindfolding kittens research they did a few years ago, right? The poor kittens! And the denial one has to be in to claim our scientific claims and questions aren't grounded in our culture and geared at preserving our preconceptions!

  3. Anonymous1/13/2011

    I love how she notes in the video that there are thousands of studies comparing male and female brain size, but none compring male and female liver size. Hmmm...I wonder why that is?

  4. I wish I could believe this kind of thing would change people's views and our cultural practices.

  5. On the other hand, the fact that this kind of thing is becoming more mainstream in the sciences is encouraging, although I do agree with you, Seely.

  6. happyfeminist1/14/2011

    It is an awesome word. I plan to whip it out in conversations where brain differences (and how they're "hardwired") are being mansplained to me.

  7. happyfeminist1/14/2011

    Also, when did you add The Crafty Crow to your blogroll? That site is dangerous. I may never get any serious work done again.

  8. Anonymous1/14/2011

    I would be interested in seeing brain studies comparing male and female brains from different cultures. She mentions that they excluded comparisons of brains of people in cultures where girls are barred from education. But I think it would be really telling to show the gender differences in those cultures as compared to more egalitarian ones.