The myth of the gendered brain

According Gina Rippon, a cognitive neuroscientist, predisposed brain differences between sexes are a myth, with differences instead developing from a "gendered world". 

Eliza Archer
Eliza Archer NewsMavens, Europe
The myth of the gendered brain - NewsMavens
Brain. Pixabay.

Why this story matters:

Differences between the male and female brain have been the subject of much research as science seeks to explain our perceived aptitude to different tasks. However, according to Gina Rippon, a cognitive neuroscientist, predisposed brain differences between the sexes are a myth.

Our “gendered world” shapes our entire life according to Rippon’s new book “The Gendered Brain”. This affects everything from social hierarchies, to education and self-identity. The brain develops in the way our environment shapes it, therefore “The ‘gender gap’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Previous research focused on historical beliefs and stereotypes resulted in data being interpreted with a lens that was also shaped by gender stereotypes. When previous data showed no difference it was less likely to be published, with society instead preferring to embrace the research that did support a difference; highlighting our differences instead of embracing similarities.

Her critics have dubbed her a “neuronazi” with an “equality fetish”. She has responded to her critics by saying “People like me are not sex-difference deniers… Sex is a biological factor. But it is not the sole factor; it intersects with so many variables.”

Details from the story:

  • Rippon has compared her own discovery to the “the idea of the Earth circling around the sun”.
  • Her research shows the brain is shaped throughout our life until the point of the "cognitive cliff", which comes in our old age as grey cells start disappearing.
  • Her research suggests that the brain can be shaped in ways we never before realized, when given different tasks our brains form new neural paths. Therefore, when we are excluded from the possibility of exploring these pathways we lose the opportunity to develop these paths. The example given is Lego -- if a child is not given Lego they may develop fewer skills in spatial training than others who have. Repetition is the key to success when developing these pathways.
  • Rippon suggests that there is “pinkification” happening in our society.
  • Rippon is vocal advocate of women in science and of young girls having strong role models in these fields.

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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