Brains differ socially, not by biological sex

Tessa Phillips and Tessa Phillips

Citizens for Equality representative Justin Atkinson gave a presentation titled “Brain Sex” hosted by the University’s Women’s Center Wednesday.

The presentation was given for one of the Center’s “brown-bag discussions,” which occur each Wednesday from 12 to 1 p.m. in 107 Hanna Hall. The event began as graduate assistant Keji Kujjo welcomed participants to the discussion and introduced Atkinson, who then began his speech.

Atkinson started off by explaining that scientists have been trying to prove for many years that the brains of men and women are biologically and fundamentally different. As neuroscience developed into its own field of study, this took the form of various experiments, many of which were heavily flawed, according to Atkinson.

“In the past, scientists thought that the larger the brain, the smarter the person,” Atkinson said, eliciting laughs from audience members. “As men were typically taller than women and had larger bones, they also had larger brains, so the scientists assumed this meant that men were smarter than women.”

Atkinson provided listeners with facts discrediting several major experiments that had attempted to attribute male and female differences solely to biology.

He also discussed the high-powered job hypothesis, which theorizes that women are underrepresented in “tenured science and engineering positions” because they are less willing than men to take on jobs that require large time commitments.

Atkinson said that the main message of his presentation was that while there are minor differences in the anatomical structures and hormone levels of men’s and women’s brains, social upbringing also “creates stereotypical behavior with no scientific reason for variable skills.”

“I found it interesting that there’s really no such thing as a female or male brain,” Freshman Brittany Horner said after attending the panel. “I didn’t really know what to expect from the panel, but the expectations I did have were definitely exceeded.”

About 15 people attended the panel, which was an average turnout, according to Kujjo. “We get anywhere from 13 to 40 people each week depending on the topic and time of year,” she said. “With students preparing for exam week around the corner, this turnout was about what I expected.”

Kujjo, who is responsible for coordinating with the discussion presenters each week, said next Wednesday’s panel will be about parenting in a foreign land.