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SciAm: M/F brain differences

  1. May 26, 2005 #1

    marcus

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    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=000363E3-1806-1264-980683414B7F0000

    any comment?
    research reported includes vervet monkey M and F, as well as human,
    if I remember correctly. yeah see if you can get the sidebar called
    "wired preferences?"

    young vervets showed a preference in toys to play with, either toy trucks or dolls, idea was it was not forced on them by their culture or by what other grownup vervets expected of them
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2005 #2
    I liked the article. I did my current events for social studies on the pink section of the article about Lawrence Summers, the Harvard president. My teacher wrote some stuff about it that I question, so if I am not too lazy I might post it tonight to see what ya'll think of it.
     
  4. May 26, 2005 #3

    Moonbear

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    As the article does a nice job of explaining, there are differences in the brains of males and females, and this has been known for some time. As the article also explained, this doesn't make one of the sexes more intelligent than the other, or more or less able to learn a particular subject, but it can mean they approach it differently.

    I haven't seen the particular study about vervet monkeys that was discussed. One thing strikes me as very odd, which is why would a toy truck have any meaning to a male monkey (or any monkey)? It's not like they know that a truck is a truck. What would be inherently masculine about a truck if you don't know what a truck is? Same with a ragdoll to a monkey. So, two other things come to mind as different between the two objects; color and texture. If you painted a toy truck light pink and dressed a ragdoll in bright primary colors, would you see any gender reversals in who chooses them? Or, if they were presented with trucks that were made of stuffed fabric instead of plastic or metal, and dolls that were entirely hard plastic with molded plastic clothing, again, would there be a preference? I've seen a lot of little girls with a strong preference toward pink and lavendar even when their parents have gagged at the idea of dressing their baby girl in all pink frills (and lots of us female scientists are definitely not "pink frilly" types...all anectdotal evidence only). Maybe there is a reason certain colors would be preferred by one gender or the other. I can't think of any good sensible reason off-hand, but it would be interesting and useful to know if certain toys are going to be ignored by one gender or the other due to their color or texture. In contrast to the preferences for pink stuff, among my own observations of babies and young children, I haven't noticed much of a difference in whether they prefer hard or soft toys. When teething, anything can be chewed on, and toy blocks and any stuffed animal with a tail seem to win every time. Everything seems to be made of plastic, from toy trucks to play tea sets, and kids of both sexes seem to latch onto either a blanket or favorite stuffed toy, so I'm less certain of texture making the difference here. But, I'm also thinking that as soon as you change the colors on something, you do see gender roles change in choosing toys. Even when I was a kid, all the girls wanted the Barbie Corvette...a car, but a decidedly pink car, and when action figures came out in dark or primary colors, boys collected them left and right...action figures are really the same as dolls.

    So, the monkey study supports a gender difference in choice of toys, but I'm not so sure if it's the conclusion they are drawing about learning to use tools vs learning to be nurturing since with no way to know the context of what that toy actually is, you'd think the female monkeys could have just as easily picked up a toy truck and nurtured that if that was the situation, or the male monkeys might have used the dolls as clubs or ripped it to shreds.
     
  5. May 26, 2005 #4

    marcus

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    I got the link to that "sidebar" about the young vervet monkeys

    http://www.sciam.com/media/inline/000363E3-1806-1264-980683414B7F0000_p44.jpg

    sure, post what you have. are you thinking of posting your teacher's comments and saying why you disagree? that might be interesting


    personally I think that TWO apparently contradictory things could be true:

    1. it could be true that to some statist. signif degree there are anatomical/chemical differences between M/F brains

    and that these differences influence the distribution of talents and native abilities for various things, and the preferences and motivations for various things

    and that these anatomical/chemical differences have a genetic basis (somehow connect to XX and XY)

    2. it could also be true that the amount of encouragement and access and success that women experience in math engineering and physical science could be as much or more influenced by sociological stuff, rather than genetic-based.

    If both are true then the two "sides" of the debate could be having a stupid argument. In that case, to resolve things the sociologists should first of all acknowledge that there is evidence suggesting genetic M/F brain differences that could affect native ability in science

    And those on the genetic side should acknowledge that it might be sociological stuff that is overwhelming the other stuff and might be responsible for much of the different rates of success.

    then it becomes a quantitative matter to objectively sort out HOW MUCH affect to attribute to various causes.

    I am not too excited about this either way, but I like the truth to come out. And I guess I think the vervet monkeys playing with trucks and dolls are cute.

    And I also am excited that the smartest most revolutionary mathematician working in quantum gravity, that I can see, happens at the moment to be a woman named Renate Loll. she has a keen and original head.

    partly it is just an age and generational thing, the other very smart people (men mostly) have gotten older and are less creative and it just happened that the next one up on the batting order happened to be a woman
    (probably the German educational system is currently more effective in quantum gravity theoretical physics and the German system by coincidence also seems to bring up more women math/physics people).
    I dont really know hard facts or statistics about this, but there is another up and coming German quantum gravity person called Bianca Dittrich

    presumably Renate and Bianca would have played with trucks if they had been vervet monkeys :smile:
     
  6. May 26, 2005 #5

    marcus

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    come on Moonbear, that is a bit strained
    baby humans can recognize faces and the difference between hard and soft

    I mean the basic face LAYOUT that you have on a doll or a smily
    :smile:

    I expect young vervets can tell a doll from a truck

    so the females would not have picked up a truck to nurture if they had a doll handy

    also you, Moonbear, may be encouraging people to think in stereotypes by saying the male monkeys pick up a doll to rip to shreds or swing as a club.

    in the picture, at least, the male vervet looks to me like he is studying the truck and rolling it around, he is not using it in a destructive/aggressive way

    it is a stereotype to say "you'd think the male would be destructive and aggressive" shame on you Moonbear. you are usually one of the most nice and reasonable here
     
  7. May 26, 2005 #6

    selfAdjoint

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    Marcus isn't it just as much a stereotype to say "The male has these spatial and kinetic insights (and the female doesn't)"? Isn't that precisely what Summers got into trouble for saying?
     
  8. May 26, 2005 #7

    DocToxyn

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    I would say it is completely reasonable to test the textural properties of the objects given to the monkeys. The experimenter would be able to control for that factor and make conclusions about it's role in the object selection process. The questions isn't so much as to whether the monkey, or human child, can tell the difference between soft and hard, but what do those textures mean to the handler, what kind of reaction does it provoke? What if you gave the monkey a doll without a face, or simply a soft pillow, will it be more likely nurtured or not?

    As far as the stereotyping goes, it's hardly a stereotype to think that a male monkey could potentially be aggressive and destructive, that is the how the male in that society gains status. While there is also some female aggression, they have a much greater nuturing component in the aspect of childrearing and males have little to no interaction with the very young. I see no reason to admonish Moonbear for any of those statements.
     
  9. May 26, 2005 #8

    Moonbear

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    DocToxyn already addressed the other points, and this one partially. I was referring to the statements in the article that the males were preferring objects that could be used as tools, not my own opinions. Unless the dolls resembled monkey babies (I'm assuming they were more of the typical baby dolls that resemble human babies, but don't really know), I can't see how a monkey would necessarily make any connection as to what that object was. A club was about the only tool-like connection I could make with a doll. Though, in trying to set aside my human bias of knowing what a truck is used for, I can't think of ANY way that would more resemble an object preferred as a tool-like object to a monkey (male or female) than a doll would.

    I'd be surprised to see any monkey, male or female, not just rip a doll to shreds; that's just pretty much a monkey thing to do. I don't know what criterion the researchers were using either, whether an object was the first picked up, if they needed to carry it around a certain amount of time, if they needed to use it or play with it in a certain way, etc. I'll take a look at the links and the literature for that study at a later time.
     
  10. May 26, 2005 #9

    marcus

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    So what? Do two wrongs make a right?
    this is our Moonbear, I expect her to be a bit more human and rational than the president of Harvard.
     
  11. May 26, 2005 #10

    marcus

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  12. May 26, 2005 #11

    Integral

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    I have spend something over 30yrs of my life engaged in a multi-sample study of M/F differences...These guys get paid for restating the obvious? :smile:

    Sorry, you all can now continue with the serious discussion at hand.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2005
  13. May 26, 2005 #12

    selfAdjoint

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    And this is our own Marcus, who comes on as a bit of a hypocrite in this dicussion, dissing Moonbear, and refusing to be dissuaded, when as I tried to suggest gently, his own PC skirts are none too clean.
     
  14. May 27, 2005 #13

    Moonbear

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    Okay, went to the original article, and here's something interesting:
    Indeed, if you look at the graphs presented, that for males, they spent about 20% of their time contacting each of the following: police car, orange ball, red pan (the red pan was classified as a "feminine" toy), and about 10% of their time with the doll. The males also spent about 25-30% of their time with the furry dog which was classified as a "neutral" toy (I'm not sure why a doll is "feminine" and a furry dog is "neutral"), and only 10% of their time with a book, also classified as "neutral."

    In contrast, the female monkeys spent about 10% contact time each with the orange ball and police car ("masculine" toys), 20-25% time with each of the "feminine" toys (doll and red pan) and the furry dog ("neutral" toy), and only 5% with another "neutral" toy (picture book).

    From their discussion:
    And I should also note that monkeys in this study included quite a range of ages, from infants to adults.
    Parity of adult females is not mentioned, but if the females have already had experience as mothers, this could certainly affect their preference for "nurturing" toys (both the doll and dog). This would have been far better to compare nulliparous juveniles (yes, I realize that's redundant).

    Marcus, your wholesale rejection of my points with accusations of sexism suggest to me that you simply have not observed the behavior of many monkeys. If a doll resembles an infant, it is not at all unreasonable that in species where males are known to commit infanticide of unrelated infants, that a male monkey would act aggressively toward such a doll. I don't know if vervet monkeys are among the primate species that display such behaviors, though I can look it up. Nonetheless, it would not be an unexpected or atypical behavior for a monkey.
     
  15. May 27, 2005 #14

    Moonbear

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    Actually, that's not even what Summers got in trouble for. There are known gender differences (and the more research that comes out, it is looking more to be gender rather than sex differences) in a number of brain areas, and one of those areas is involved in spatial perception. What Summers got in trouble for is assuming that makes women unable to succeed in math and science. The brain is quite remarkable in the ability to utilize alternative pathways to accomplish a function when another pathway is absent or disrupted.

    And having now read the full study on the vervet monkeys, what's interesting is that it really doesn't show much of a preference among males for "masculine" vs "feminine" toys, what it shows is the females do seem to have a preference for certain objects, and the authors speculate that those objects do have something in common, color.

    Also note, only approach and contact with the toy were measured. There was no measure of how the toy was played with. Here is the one statement they make in regard to how the toys were played with (bold emphasis mine):
    In the photograph of the monkey contacting the car, that is all it shows. They don't show sequential frames of footage, so the monkey could just be touching the car, reaching out to pick it up, flipping it over, poking it, or pushing it. We can't assume anything based on that photo. We also can't assume what the monkey holding the doll is doing. She could be about the pluck the stuffing out of it for all we know, or tasting it to see if it's food.
     
  16. May 27, 2005 #15

    selfAdjoint

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    He never said anything close to that; it's what the PC bunch caricatured him as saying. Actually he was asked to explain the existing and well-known DEFICIT of women in math and physics, and cited the M-F studies as a reason.

    BTW, what is the difference between a genetic gender effect and a genetic sex effect? How do you objectively distinguish them?
     
  17. May 27, 2005 #16

    Moonbear

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    A sex effect relates to whether you have XX or XY sex chromosomes. A gender effect refers to whether your self-perception is male or female. So, someone can be genetically XY, but consider themself feminine (transgendered).

    Though, hmm...gender doesn't really happen to be entirely the correct term either. Sexuality is more the issue for these dimorphic brain areas, in some cases anyway. (Uh, yeah, it's not exactly a simple issue.)

    So, while there seems to be generally a sex difference, some of the sexually dimorphic areas of the brain in, for example, homosexual men, are more similar to those in heterosexual women than heterosexual men.
     
  18. May 27, 2005 #17

    Moonbear

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    Unfortunately, I have never seen a transcript of his speech to know exactly what he did or did not say. I would have liked to have seen it, but at the time, nobody was releasing any transcripts, whether they existed or not. Whether he got in trouble for his actual words or others' interpretations of his words, the reason he got in trouble was that it was at least portrayed in the media that he was claiming women were not able to succeed in math and science because of genetic sex differences.
     
  19. May 28, 2005 #18
    The sexes complement each other in many ways, including cognition. Whereas men may be more competitive intellectually, women may more readily incorporate affect to their thought processes.
     
  20. May 28, 2005 #19
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