Mens and Women's Brains are Different?
My morning paper tells me that one Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist, has declared that men's and women's brains are different and so we should cut each other some slack if we exhibit differences in our behaviors. Dr. Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown U linguist, has taken the position that men and women communicate differently. Like Dr. Tannen (a Ph.D.) before her, Dr. Brizendine (an M.D.) is getting a lot of press.
Dr. Brizendine's research interest is "women's hormonal balance and effects on mood, sex and anxiety" according to the UC San Francisco web site. She has an impeccable education -- undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, Yale Medical School, and a residency in psychiatry at Harvard. It is clear from her list of interests and activities, at the UCSF web site (click on her name) she has focused entirely on women so one wonders where her expertise about men comes from. I critiqued a prepress version of Deborah's most famous book and it was my sense then that it had been based primarily on anecdotes provided by women, rather than men (though I did supply a male perspective in my comments).
One of the real disgraces of medical as well as other kinds of research is that the focus used almost exclusively to be on males and, more than that, white males. As a result the medical needs of women and Blacks were largely ignored in medical research and drugs trials. Interestingly, after writing the previous sentence I picked up this quote from a short on-line review of her book, The Female Brain.
While doing research as a medical student at Yale and then as a resident and faculty member at Harvard, Louann Brizendine discovered that almost all of the clinical data in existence on neurology, psychology, and neurobiology focused exclusively on males. In response to the overwhelming need for information on the female mind, Brizendine established the first clinic in the country to study and treat women's brain function. At the same time, The National Institutes of Health began including female subjects in almost all of its studies for the first time. The result has been an explosion of new data on the female brain in recent years.So, I shall presume that her inferences of differences between male and female brain differences is predicated on her comparing her research on women with the research of others on men. I might add that I believe children have also not been much studied in medical research and wonder about how the doses of medicines for children are determined.
In trying to get up to speed on this sort of research, I happened across a British study showing that sexual orientation seemed to be critical to performing certain mental tasks, with lesbians performing in much the same way as heterosexual males and gay men performing in much the same way as heterosexual women. This British study suggests that "varying levels of exposure to the male hormone testosterone before birth plays a role in "hard-wiring" the brain." I am of the opinion that testosterone is the work of the devil and is what what makes males behave so badly.
When I critiqued Tannen's book I urged her to consider the possibility that men and women form a continuum of tendencies in verbal behaviors with males tending to cluster more at one end and females at the other. As I read the interview of Dr. Brizendine, I was struck by the fact that my personal experiences with some woman most close to me in my life were inconsistent with the properties that she said women, but not men exhibit. I had the same experience while reading Tannen's book. It is this personal, purely anecdotal experience, of no real scientific merit other than providing a hint that there could be counter-examples to their theories, that leads me to think that there is a continuum between males and females in regard to brain differences. Of course the British study does confirm this but not in the way I am suggesting which is that there will be a continuum between heterosexual males and females.
Dr. Tannen early on took the "fair and balanced" view that boys and girls learn verbal styles primarily while engaged in same sex activities. Indeed, when I was a kid, I played exclusively with other males -- until I found out about the special delights female companionship provides. So, if males tend to dominate women verbally in different sex interactions then that merely reflected the fact that when boys are interacting with boys, skills in competition and efforts at domination are learned. Meanwhile girls are learning to be cooperative. Deborah took some heat from feminists who believed she was letting men off the hook for their competitive non cooperative verbal styles. I think they were right. I am still competitive and tend to try to dominate interactions I am in though not necessarily consciously but I also know better than to think that this is a right way to act.
Dr. Brizendine is likely to take some heat from feminists for letting men off the hook for their bad behavior as well, for she provides a biological basis for differences in male and female behavior rather than the explantorially weaker sociological basis Dr. Tannen provided. It would be nice to see confirmation of Dr. Brizendine's generalizations about male and female brain differences by those who have studied both, such as in the case of the British study referred to above. My money is on the existence of a continuum. Once our library gets in a copy I shall attempt to read it.
In a short review of her book, a troubling question ostensibly taken from her book is raised, namely "why are women more verbal than men? " I am not sure what facts are being presupposed by this question. Is it that women talk more than men or that women do better at certain verbal skills tests than men or what? In fact, men tend to dominate different sex interactions and though one keeps hearing abiout the greater verbal skills exhibited by females this is certainly not true on SAT and ACT tests. Indeed there have been calls for less biased pre-college testing. Obviously if a verbal skills tests involves, say, anologies using terms drawn from comman male experiences males are going to do better. In any event, I look forward to her book.
This is a bit of a rambling blog but I am desperately trying to get off the current wars as a topic.