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The Science of Sex Differences

11

August 27, 2013 by mattfradd


sex-diffs

There is a growing number of people in our nation today who think that sex (that is, maleness and femaleness) is not an objective biological reality, but rather a social construct. Accordingly, instead of “sex” they prefer to use “gender”—a word that, until late last century, referred exclusively to language (most languages apart from English assign male, female, and sometimes neuter genders to nouns). Unlike sex, gender can be manipulated to serve our cultural preferences.

Though there are a variety of ways to respond to this nonsense (how’s that for tipping my hand), in this post I would like to respond with some of the findings of modern science.

Those who reject the objectivity of sex will often say that although male and female bodies may have some differences between them, our brains are just the same. One man, who is currently raising three “genderless children,” argued, “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.”

But is the only difference between men and women “what’s between their legs”?

Brain Differences

As it turns out, male and female brains are biologically different.

in 2004 an all-star team of fourteen neuroscientists, from the University of California, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University,published findings showing that male and female brains are genetically different.

These scientists analyzed thirty samples of human brain tissue taken from different sections of the brain and from different individuals. They were not told the sex of the individual from whom each specimen was taken, but simply by genetic analysis of the brain tissue they were able, by analyzing the expression of two different gene tissue, to correctly identify the sex of every one.

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill, in an article for Scientific American, went as far as to say that the structural, chemical, and functional differences between the brains of males and females raises the possibility of developing “sex-specific treatments” for conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.

Toy Preferences

The differences between male and female brains affect many aspects of our behavior, including memory, emotion, vision and hearing, how we handle stress… and even the toys we like to play with.

Researchers (and parents) have often noted boys are more likely to play with balls and cars whereas girls tend to prefer dolls and easy-bake ovens.

Those who claim that “gender” is a social construct find this abhorrent. Earlier this year, Boots, the largest pharmacy chain in the U.K., felt compelled to take down the signs for “Boys” and “Girls” toys after shoppers took to Facebook and Twitter to accuse the retailer of “sexist behavior.” Meanwhile, in Sweden they’ve begun pushing “gender-blind” toy catalogs picturing girls shooting toy guns and boys blow-drying hair.

But although it may not be politically correct, the science strongly suggest that the reason boys and girls prefer to play with different toys has less to do with cultural conditioning than with innate brain biology.

In 2002, Melissa Hines of City University London, and Gerianne M. Alexander of Texas A&M University decided to conduct experiments on vervet monkeys, one of our closest biological cousins. They found that the monkeys showed “sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children.” The boy monkeys typically preferred playing with cars and balls, while the female monkeys preferred playing with dolls and pots. (And they didn’t have parents or toy catalogues telling them which they should prefer.)

They concluded that such “sexually dimorphic preferences” for certain features in objects are deeply embedded products of evolution, preferences related to the very nature of being male or female—preferences that human children also clearly exhibit.

All that differentiates men and women is what’s “between their legs?” Far from it.

11 thoughts on “The Science of Sex Differences

  1. […] There is a growing number of people in our nation today who think that sex (that is, maleness and femaleness) is not an objective biological reality, but rather a social construct. Accordingly, instead of “sex” they prefer to use “gender”—a word that, until late last century, referred exclusively to language …read more […]

  2. cducey2013 says:

    Great post, Matt.
    I believe many of the studies to which you refer are used in Matt Ridley’s science-journal book The Red Queen in a chapter entitled “Sexing the Mind.” Ignoring differences in sex takes away from people’s identity. As much as gender should not wholly define a person, to take away that categorization infringes on basic methods by which people classify each other. The sexes are equal, but not identical. The kind of stuff happening in Sweden and Denmark is just a manifestation of blind, egotistical secularization in which relativism proclaims that no distinctions matter absolutely.
    Looking forward to more posts.

  3. Stephen says:

    Does this mean that people really can be born with brains that do not match their genitalia, explaining their desire for sex-change surgery? How should their sex be determined, by their brain or genitals? Or would they be considered intersex?

  4. Ashley says:

    Hello Matt, I shared this on Facebook and a friend commented saying that after a thirty minute investigation into the studies he concluded that they lacked proper controls and to take into account social conditioning. Seemed daft to me, as the study was about dead people and monkeys, but what could one respond with?

    • Alex B. says:

      It sounds like he made an unsupported claim.

      Ask him to detail the controls he feels are missing and support the claim with logical reasoning and/or studies that indicate the proposed control would indeed impact the results of the study he feels is invalid.

      For example, can he suggest a control that might have caused un-acceptable level of RNA integrity in the ethidium bromide-stained gel analysis or the 28S/18S ribosomal bands?

      Can he suggest a studied group of socially-conditioned vervet monkeys that might present a bias large enough to shift the statistical conclusion of the study?

  5. Ashley says:

    By thirty minute, I did mean thirty second. Drastically different.

  6. […] my article The Science of Sex Differences. Links to research is found in […]

  7. Wes says:

    I agree that the results show that, in general, boys and girls tend to prefer toys that are appropriated to their gender. However, the experiment fails to prove that toys reflect the essence of masculinity and femininity. What happens when a girl prefers a football or a boy wants an Easy Bake Oven? Are these kids inherently wrong? Of course not.

    And generalizations such as the experiment’s lead certain individuals to question the idea of masculinity and femininity. What does a young Catholic boy do if he wants to be a cheerleader with the other girls? What does a Catholic school girl do when she wants to play with the boys on the football field?

    They have no space or voice to address these concerns. The Catholic Church needs to provide it. If leaders and peers are presenting masculinity and femininity in these cultural categories, the ‘odd balls’ feel that they have no place to turn to. Hence, many run to the world for love and acceptance because Mother Church’s children sure aren’t providing anything.

    A challenge facing the Catholic sexual revolution will include tapping into the wisdom behind God’s design in individuals who didn’t pick the ‘right’ toys in the experiment. God loves the odd balls. Let’s not let them bounce out of the Church’s pin.

  8. We$ says:

    I agree that the results show that, in general, boys and girls tend to prefer toys that are appropriated to their gender. However, the experiment fails to prove that toys reflect the essence of masculinity and femininity. What happens when a girl prefers a football or a boy wants an Easy Bake Oven? Are these kids inherently wrong? Of course not.

    And generalizations such as the experiment’s lead certain individuals to question the idea of masculinity and femininity. What does a young Catholic boy do if he wants to be a cheerleader with the other girls? What does a Catholic school girl do when she wants to play with the boys on the football field?

    They have no space or voice to address these concerns. The Catholic Church needs to provide a space for these kids. If leaders and peers are presenting masculinity and femininity in these cultural categories, the ‘odd balls’ feel that they have no place to turn to. Hence, many turn to the world for love and acceptance because Mother Church’s children sure aren’t providing anything.

    A challenge facing the Catholic sexual revolution will include tapping into the wisdom behind God’s design in individuals who didn’t pick the ‘right’ toys in the experiment. God loves the odd balls. Let’s not let them bounce out of the Church’s pin.

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