International Women's Day 2014: What's the difference between men and women's brains? Very little, says neuroscientist

Professor Gina Rippon said women and men are 'wired' towards different skills because of gender stereotyping

Kashmira Gander
Saturday 08 March 2014 16:17
Professor Gina Rippon claimed that gender differences are environmental and not innate
Professor Gina Rippon claimed that gender differences are environmental and not innate

The notion that men and women have different brain structures is merely a myth pedalled by the “drip, drip, drip” of gender stereotyping, a neuroscientist has claimed on International Women’s Day.

In a speech at ScienceGrrls’s ‘Fighting the Neurotrash’ talk at the Women of the World Festival on Saturday, Neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon claimed that gender differences are environmental and not innate, the Telegraph reported.

While a study published last year said that men are better suited to perception and co-ordinated action, and women have better mutli-tasking skills, Professor Rippon will claim that seemingly biological differences in brain wiring are easy to change.

“The bottom line is that saying there are differences in male and female brains is just not true. There is pretty compelling evidence that any differences are tiny and are the result of environment not biology,” Professor Rippon, of Aston University Birmingham told the newspaper.

“You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girls brain, or that’s a boys brain’ in the same way you can with the skeleton. They look the same.”

To make the link between cultural stimuli and brain difference, Professor Rippon cited a study which suggested the brains of London black cab drivers change physically when they learn the Knowledge – an encyclopaedic mental map of London’s streets.

In the same way a muscle gets larger when it is used, women's brains are culturally trained to be ‘wired’ for multi-tasking, she explained.

“What often isn’t picked up on is how plastic and permeable the brain is. It is changing throughout our lifetime

“The world is full of stereotypical attitudes and unconscious bias. It is full of the drip, drip, drip of the gendered environment.”

Professor Rippon believes that the cultural differences are learned from childhood, when boys and girls are given different toys.

“I think gender differences in toys is a bad thing. A lot of people say it is trivial. They say girls like to be princesses. But these things are pervasive in the developing brain and stifle potential.

“Often boys’ toys are much more training based whereas girl’s toys are more nurturing. It’s sending out an early message about what is expected in a child’s future.”

Her speech comes after Toys R Us agreed to drop gender based labelling from its products after pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, a consumer group which represents thousands of shoppers who want gender-neutral toy marketing.

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