PerspectiveNeuroscience

His brain, her brain?

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Science  21 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6212, pp. 915-916
DOI: 10.1126/science.1262061

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Summary

There is a long history of scientific inquiry about what role biological sex plays in differences between brain function in human males and females. Greater knowledge of the influence of biological sex on the human brain promises much-needed insights into brain function and especially dysfunctions that differentially affect the sexes (1). Certainly, advancing technologies and an increasing wealth of data (with more sophisticated analyses) should prompt robust future research—carefully conducted and well replicated—that can elucidate sex effects in the brain. However, this field of research has spurred an equally long history of debate as to whether inherent differences in brains of males and females predispose the sexes to stereotypical behaviors, or whether such claims reinforce and legitimate traditional gender stereotypes and roles in ways that are not scientifically justified—so-called neurosexism. Although this topic remains controversial, a commonly held belief is that the psyches of females and males are highly distinct. These differences are perceived as natural, fixed, and invariant across time and place (2), presumably due to unique female versus male brain circuitry that is largely fixed by a sexually differentiated genetic blueprint. A major challenge in the field is to crtically view previous experimental findings, as well as design future studies, outside the framework of this dichotomous model. Here, gender scholarship can hasten scientific progress by revealing the implicit assumptions that can give rise to inadvertent neurosexism.