Gender stereotypes, like males perform better at math and map reading than women perform, are often credited to how the brains of each gender are “wired”. This belief gained popular attention recently due to reportedly shaky conclusions in a published article that the general media took and spun out of control. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes how the researchers used diffusor tensor imaging – an MRI method – to look at the connectome (the neural connections in the brain, how the brain is wired) of over 900 men and women. The differences observed were significant on average, but as researcher Christian Jarrett’s column in Wired’s “Brain Watch” explains, there are numerous concerns in the interpreted results of the published study and the subsequent media takeoff, which are two regular challenges with science journalism.
Male and female brains are different, but the amount of overlap in the connectome between genders is large. That is something the science community can agree on. Like most areas of our understanding of the brain, what it really means in practice is something we are still figuring out. Communicating research findings in a way that is easy to understand is hard. On our blog we plan to do our fair share of research reporting as well. But we can’t let attention grabbing headlines get in the way of providing proper context for and acknowledgement of the incremental gains that do lead to those rare paradigm shifting breakthroughs.
Image: Simon Blackley, Flickr