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Math Looks the Same in the Brains of Boys and Girls, Study Finds (npr.org)
76 points by pseudolus 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments

> Finally, a standardized test of mathematics ability found no difference between boys and girls.

> So why are fields like mathematics and computer science so dominated by men?

At that age, boys' and girls' hips, shoulders, and height show little difference either. Should we wonder why men and women show differences in basketball and tennis?

I'm not saying female and male brains grow differently after that age. I have no idea. I'm saying that their data doesn't change anything about answering why fields differ.

> I'm not saying female and male brains grow differently after that age. I have no idea.

The do develop differently after that age. The transition from a child brain to the emotionally and cognitively more mature adult brain starts a few years earlier in girls than in boys.

It starts at around 10 to 12 in girls, and around 15 to 20 in boys [1].

I suspect that this can lead to difference in what fields boys and girls end up in for two reasons:

1. It may be that the best way to teach a kid depends on where the kid is on their child->adult brain transition. Trying to teach teen boys and girls in the same classes, with the same material, at the same pace might mean that half the class is being taught in a way that is geared toward people whose brain does not work like theirs does.

2. One of the big things you get better at and more interested in as your brain becomes more adult is dealing with larger and more complicated social networks. Just around the time that you are getting close to high school, and you've finally got enough background to start getting to the good stuff in STEM subjects--the girls are also getting to where social networks are a big deal to them and they put effort into growing and maintaining their network. That's still a few years away for the boys, who are still happy to spend hours alone in front of a computer. By the time they get interested in people a few years later, they are now firmly on their path to going into STEM.

I have a suspicion that we could largely close the gender gaps in STEM fields by changing middle school and high school so that boys and girls are in separate classes with separate curricula geared toward their different child-> adult brain development trajectories.

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/105291...

Their data might be small steps in the right direction though. My field is not neuroscience but from the outside, it seems that neuroimaging techniques are considered the best way to noninvasively understand more about functioning. Primarily because so little is understood about thought mechanisms these kinds of studies are definitely first steps. May be there will always be great empiricism and subjectivity involved in this complex question, like many sociological questions, but it seems like a worthy goal to understand how and why gender influences a person's choice of field. While trying to make progress on this question -- the societal conditioning/sociological factors that influence behaviors play a huge role which may not be quantifiable -- understanding the contribution of neurochemistry seems pertinent.

To understand differences in another field, such as athletics, the answers seem to be far more attainable (e.g. research on hormonal activity and its effect on strength is also making progress) today than in a field like math where its reliance on abstract thinking necessitates better understanding of neural mechanisms -- a hard problem.

So according to the article (the paper isn't linked anywhere, so I have to rely on the reporting), the study found that men and women are using the same parts of brain when they do math. That's a completely unsurprising result. Was anyone ever claiming that it is not the case?

However, I don't understand how the brain activity patterns can prove (or disprove) that women and men have 100% equal ability to do math. I just don't see the connection between those two things.

I'd be curious to know what correlations do exist between brain imagery and mathematical ability, both with and without taking sex into account.

Yeah, I'd have been way more interested in how math "looks" in the brains of math professors or something.

Essentially if they both have the same underlying operation there is no apparent constraint or differentiation. It may or may not immediately prove anything but it suggests there isn't any reason to believe in inherent differences - check elsewhere for proof.

A clear disproof or proof would involve observing a hard constraint of some sort.

For a blatantly counterfactual analogy imagine that they found neural patterns for math were literally the same as computer processors done in brain cells like bored engineers implementating computers in Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft. They could decode patterns and found human calculations involve bit registers in their head - men fit between 3 to 6 base five "bits" directly and women have 2 to 5 base six "bits" as size constraints prevent fitting more in. They found larger numbers were done via piecemeal operations over a memory map slowing things down and increased clockspeed was possible but would literally cook their brain. The upper bound for men in this bizzare hypothetical world would be higher.

>That's a completely unsurprising result.

Anyone could have guessed this, because it's common sense. But the purpose of science is to produce knowledge based on empirical evidence. Common sense has its place, but science wants to test everything. According to a scientist it's not a fact just because it's common sense. Now this fact is part of the body of scientific evidence, and that is a powerful thing.

If you are trying to figure out why men are so inclined to math/CS, I think it makes a lot of sense to start at the very bottom of the problem; what do their brains look like when they are literally doing the thing? We can officially rule that out, so now we can fairly move up the chain and introduce more complex questions.

If you are coming from the point of view that males are better at math then females, then the next thing to wonder is "why"? This study attempted to find some factual backing for the most popular explanation: that there is a biological difference between the brains of male and female people that causes males to be better at math.

This study didn't find any such difference, in the study both gender's brains worked in the same way. They studied children in an attempt to factor out some other influences (i.e. societal).

Not so quickly. They didn't find any obvious differences in some basic coarse metrics. That's like stating that the thermal image of AMD and Intel processors is about the same and thus their abilities are the same. The only thing this study proves us that the differences are more subtle than what they could measure.

Men and women have the same math ability on average. Do they have the same standard deviation in math ability? That’s a different question. If you look at the people studying math at a post-grad level and beyond, I doubt you will find anyone with average ability.

While I appreciate the objective behind the study, it's kind of disappointing that it is even done.

"Serious" mathematicians are hopefully like "serious" coders, they read the math and when they happen to meet the person they are like "Oh, hi black/indian/asian/white/A man/woman/X not that I want to chit chat but what does this line here mean exactly..." The analogy does break down due to the sheer number of mathematicians being men, which is probably why some people need these kind of headlines in the first place (to challenge their bias).

I personally believe that all mathematicians have poignantly different ways of going about their work, so my real issue with studies is that personally, I wouldn't like being a test subject.

It is only disappointing because it found the expected result. If Galileo had drooped his rocks and found the big rock fell faster than the small one it would be a disappointing result. That is wasn't expected changed the course of science. In short, we sometimes need to go back and prove the obvious really is obvious just in case our ideas are wrong.

Of course the above is causes a lot of false results to be published: it isn't real but by statistical fluke happened.

That isn't at all an expected result. Given the range of physical differences between men and women it is quite surprising if there are no mental differences on average and potentially even in extreme situations. Hormonal differences alone could cause any sort of strange divergences and it might have turned out that the ability to pump blood to the brain (ie, raw physical fitness - which is clearly a divergence between the sexes particularly on the tails of the distribution) is a contributor to peak mental processing ability.

It isn't expected that men and women are the same in how they do things. We just don't think the differences are important to what outcomes get achieved when it comes to real-world problems.


And something interesting, my understanding is that where men are more likely to be red-green colour blind women go in the opposite direction, sometimes even as far as having tetrachromacy/a 4th type of colour receptor. Maths always seemed to me to be linked to vision, that sort of thing might trigger all sorts of strange results.

Biology is really messy.

> the ability to pump blood to the brain

I'm not sure if such an assertion is rooted in directly measurable and observable science (I somehow doubt it is).

It would not be unreasonable to assume that the ability to get blood to the brain of men is significantly reduced compared with women because of its constant redirection to inflating the penis.

And yet a quick google search shows that there are indeed gendered differences in how much blood flows to the brain, although not linked to athletic performance.

"... women's brains seem to be more active than men's brains, in terms of blood flow ... [w]hile there was more blood flow in women's brains overall, male brains had more blood flow in certain areas, including the visual and coordination centres of the brain." [0]

> It would not be unreasonable to assume that the ability to get blood to the brain of men is significantly reduced compared with women because of its constant redirection to inflating the penis.

I'm pretty sure that is a real fact, or very close to one. The blood in the penis had to come from somewhere, and could easily be causing reduced brain functionality.

[0] https://www.sciencealert.com/women-s-brains-are-more-active-...

I hope you can recognize the implicit sexism in your comment. There's really no need for it.

I do not think there is anything implicit about it.

I've never met a person—"serious" or not—that didn't harbor some sort of unconscious bias. The difference has always been how they acknowledge and work to counteract such bias.

I notice the people who attack these studies are often the same people who want to claim there isn't any genetic difference between women and men in the same breath. That's the kind of claim that requires evidence.. such as these studies.

Whether or not there are genetic differences doesn't mean you should treat anyone differently. But, if say we know that brown eyed people are wired so that math is harder for them then we have a good case for giving them additional advantages (scholarships, tutoring, etc) to help overcome that disparity. On the other hand, if there are no genetic disparities but in wealthier countries brown eyed people prefer to avoid math if they can, well, that's also informative (maybe the math field isn't welcoming to them, or maybe work in that field doesn't engage them well)

I disagree with the notion that we should give additional advantages to people who are bad at things, at least genetically. Math is not a vital part of life, so I wouldn't equate it with accessibility measures like ramps or braille, etc.

In the case of economic or societal disadvantages the argument is that if the environment changed, both the rich and the poor, the white and the black, would perform equally, justifying "leveling the playing field". Genetically, all "leveling the playing field" does is provide an artificial equity which will go away once the advantages are taken away.

This seems similar to the argument that women should have different physical fitness standards in the special forces. Nobody should care about gender proportions in the special forces, they should care about the effectiveness of the teams, same with other non-trivial pursuits. (This is provided that the differences between groups are indeed genetic).

Hardy said the famous "all mathematicians are isomorphic" which means there basically only one way of doing math. And I tend to agree.

I think math is separated into two parts—the scientific and the language—and the scientific part is where I think mathematicians show a lot of variation. The language has to be standard, otherwise it could be ambiguous or even incorrect.

For example, back when we were doing our MSc degrees, my one colleague would start his day reading Mac Lane's old and new testaments [1]. I would start my day usually obsessing about the same things—what time is and its relation to space and orientation, whether everything can be expressed in a self-dual way, learning or improving language skills, writing music and playing soccer. Whenever I read mathematics I find it somewhat stressful and I've realised that I should write more than read. The "stress" part is maybe actually just the fact that in general I often don't like skimming things—not even story books. I also have Mac Lane's books, but I try to focus on one thing at a time.

Whether you replace every group by its permutation group as a habit or not, they may be isomorphic, but they are constructed differently—as are mathematicians.

[1] This was his joking way to refer to Algebra (old testament) and Categories for the Working Mathematician (new tastament).

There is certainly only one math (if you subscribe to this idea -- it is also the truth) but many ways of doing it. Given doing math (at least at the research level) requires a staggering variety in thought and being able to make connections through training (some might call this intuition), trying to understand the sensitivity of ways of thinking about abstractions, to neurochemistry, is definitely a nontrivial question. Now whether or not one is interested in answering this question, it is definitely complex enough to investigate.

Good news everyone,this site has a 1996 mode you can activate in order to get to their content without becoming their product. No pics through,so maybe more like a 1993 mode.

Would be nice if it linked straight through to https://text.npr.org/s.php?sId=777187543

I get sent straight to https://text.npr.org/

Am I the only one that's not offended by the NPR website? I found it rather clean with a reasonable (i.e. limited) amount of ads. So many websites overdo it with animated ads and attention grabs, this one actually feels clean and readable.

It also has a 1984 mode: "Cantlon suspects the answer involves the societal messages girls and young women get"

This kind of conspiracy theory being backed up by medias and politicians really become tiring. It’s easy to blame "society" for everything without ever identifying a potential mechanism, formulating a testable (and possibly refutable) hypothesis which is the basic job of a scientist. And of course this kind of claims are never accompanied by a single concrete exemple... which would be easy to find if there was even a small basis of reality behind them.

And of course this kind of claims are never accompanied by a single concrete exemple

How about a 10 percentage point difference in the share of women among STEM graduates between the Netherlands and Denmark?

Unless you're suggesting there's some sort of biological factor involved that makes Danish women more suited to go into STEM, society's the remaining culprit, even if the exact mechanisms have yet to be identified...

And this is not impossible. The obvious example is the north vs south Korean. The same people, but different nutrition, different lifestyles. Now the NK people are obviously smaller and I'd bet, have a much lower IQ (the lack of food doesn't help with math activities!) I'm certain that there are many subtle differences in how people live in Netherlands and Denmark.

How do you expect this to work: To get a gender imblance, only one of the sexes would have to suffer these adverse effects due to, say, nutrition. That would likely still be caused by social factors...

Because makes and females have different nutrition, different habits and fir example use different drugs. It may be something silly like different contents of birth control pills. It's not a secret that small changes in amount of consumed zink, calcium or iodine make big impact on body and mental abilities.

In my opinion, that was outside the bounds of the study; Cantlon was being asked to speculate. That said, sexism is the mechanism and it's a pretty big part of our society; there are lots of studies on this already. So much so that some people think one gender is "naturally" better at math then the other.

If there is indeed a biological reality underlying the stereotype, supposedly it's because there are various genes affecting mental functions that reside on the X chromosome. Guys only get one copy, and the story goes that this leads to more outliers in either direction (ie more geniuses as well as knuckleheads).

Not sure how much water this holds...

I have to agree, the NPR text-only site is really fantastic. It also works great on mobile. This is all thanks to GDPR.

It's great but I'd like it better if they used more appropriate tags rather than just p tags everywhere.

Cool, that's how you do good web design. 3kb for text variant vs 15kb for bloated variant and that's only html not counting all additional bloated payloads.

The study had a tiny sample size (104 kids? There's 7.7 billion people total), it asked kids to do arithmetic while lying in a brain scanner and found it can't distinguish between the two sexes in the results of the experiments. Or in other words, a weak study turned up no significant result. That's not news.

The meat and potatoes of the article are in this passage, which has true explanatory power (and seems to be based on actual experimental results):

But Geary says an international study he did with Gijsbert Stoet at the University of Essex suggests a different explanation.

Using an international database on adolescent achievement in science, mathematics and reading, they found that in two-thirds of all countries, female students performed at least as well as males in science.

Yet paradoxically, females in wealthier countries with more gender equality, including the U.S., were less likely than females in other countries to get degrees in fields like math and computer science.

Geary thinks the reason may be that women in these countries are under less pressure to choose a field that promises an economic payback and have more freedom to pursue what interests them most.

Also, males may be more likely to choose science because they are less likely than females to have strong reading, writing and language skills, Geary says.

If in most countries girls do as well as boys in science we can lay to rest any ideas about genetic advantages. If women and men behave differently with regards to maths and science in different parts of the world we can safely assume the differences are cultural.

The international study mentioned above is the one that npr should be reporting. Not this garbage study looking at kids' brains on Sesame Street.

> If in most countries girls do as well as boys in science we can lay to rest any ideas about genetic advantages.


> If women and men behave differently with regards to maths and science in different parts of the world we can safely assume the differences are cultural.

No, we cannot safely assume that. That's not even what the part you quoted says.

Probably the single most common argument about why the split occurs in wealthy countries is around interest, not ability. And that can indeed be genetically driven.

To me it looks like the "gender paradox" has a trivially simple solution: Men are more interested in math and math-like fields than women (and women more interested than men in people-focused fields, just look at ones like nursing or teaching), this is at least partially genetically driven, and ability has nothing to do with it. This is part of the reasoning in what you quoted:

> Geary thinks the reason may be that women in these countries are under less pressure to choose a field that promises an economic payback and have more freedom to pursue what interests them most.

In the abstract...

An alternative hypothesis for why group X (and not Y) dominates field Z, is that members of group Y who are good at Z usually are also good at other things, which they usually prefer, while group X disproportionately contains people that are only good at Z. So it's possible that most Z's are X even though they are on average less able and without unfair discrimination.

Look, the "gender paradox" results aren't super new, going back to something like 2012, don't blame a npr pice about a new study for you not knowing older news. Additionally, the gender paradix results don't have any clear interpretation, they robustly indicate a lack of understanding but little else: https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/10/gender-differences-i...

Finally, discounting a MRI study that does high resolution studies of brain activity as garbage based on critera apropriate for surveys isn't apropriate. Samples of around 50 participants are actually well motivated for fMRI studies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427872/#!po=1....

Boys and girls in a brain scanner use the same area of brain for mathematics... What could be wrong...

It is hard to believe any study discussed in the news, when the opposite result would not have made the news, unless it has a p-value below 1/(the number of news articles about studies).

James Damore in shambles.

This leaves me completely unsurprised. Every time sexists come out with "brain differences", we find they are culture differences.

Girls leave STEM because they face creepiness, misogyny and unequal treatment from students and faculty.

Here in Sweden women leave male dominated subjects in education at the same rate that men leave female dominated subjects.

There is a lot of similarities when women leave a programming profession and when men leave the teacher profession. Both will say that they feel the social environment is unconformable. Both will say that there is an unequal treatment from students and faculty. Both will report of gender based bullying and harassment.

And the similarities continue in how quickly people leave the profession. Both has a significant higher leave rate while student, during the first year as employed and after 10 years. Being a minority gender is leaky pipe, and if we look at work segregation in general using numbers from a few years ago, 84.3% men and 84.2% women worked in a gender segregated work place.

From last year national workplace health survey, the industry with highest rate of bullying and sexual harassment was nursing, which swapped placed with construction which was the previous worst workplace. That those two professions are next to each other in toxic work environment makes perfect sense if we assume there is practically no difference biologically, socially and culturally between men and women.

Considering a lot of changes during puberty, and these tests done before onset of puberty, we don't know what happens later.

Without looking at other age groups, we never know. Most teachers in those age groups are (in most countries) women, but I agree about inequality when one-gender-only scholarships are offered.

More research has to be done on other age groups. There are ethics problems with active involvement, but brain differences have been observed in other animals too ( https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13596-male-monkeys-pr... )

I think some leave for some of the reasons you mentioned sometimes. We know that if the state demands it girls and later women will succeed in STEM. We could do better in STEM for girls and women, but also we could do better for boys and men too. Currently we import the deficit.

That said, I think a lot of it is not what you listed (which is still a problem needed addressing) but the majority is social demand and how we as a society don’t make those careers necessary or cool. People get diverted into business and liberal arts in too great a number.

If we used cultural tools to steer more girls and boys (with special emphasis for girls) into STEM we’d see better results.

Maybe better pay and working conditions would help, along with the “obsolete by 40 stigma”. My wife just quit her STEM job because of a toxic work culture, brought on by a newly hired, sociopath manager (who happens to be female).

Or because they genuinely don't like it, like a study in Sweden where a lot of women are free to chose any career they won't and avoid STEM, because there are a lot of other ways to be successful when there is more equity than STEM (industrial military complex has its toll)

Or because they aren't the only one leaving it in the first place!

Thinking that any man or boy is the same, act the same, think the same and like the same things, and STEM faculties are the worst a woman can find, is naive at best.

Men suffer as women.

The survival bias make people think that only women leave STEM or leave it at bigger rates, but that's not true.

Statistic says that less than 5% of boys and less than 1% of girls think of a career in STEM, it is already largely a field for a few (an élite if you like) and it's dominated by two kinds of people: people obsessed by the topic, in the autistic spectrum, that is mostly a male disease (people in the spectrum gravitate around STEM majors 14% more than neurotypical people - 22% Vs 36% - it means almost 2 times more).

Competitive assholes who like other competitive assholes, who are mostly men.

But the bulk of the students are regular folks like me, who just wanted to study the field but didn't like the academia shit and hence left (and I am in the spectrum as well).

no idea why this has been downvoted for merely stating easily accessible facts. JPeterson often points to the fact that men tend to gravitate towards professions that involve "things" (think engineering and tech etc) whilst woman tend towards professions that involve people. Medicine for example is now woman dominated in the UK. There is no use in ignoring the fact that men and woman might gravitate towards different things in terms of interest - thats vastly different than saying that men and woman are different in terms of their intellectual ability though. As the mentioned article unsurprisingly shows

In my math group in Romania there were more women in the Math classes. I assume in US having a job as a Math teacher is not having such big appeal so this could explain the difference.

I mean that's just one choice of framing right? I could equally say that women gravitate toward professions that require kindness and compassion and relieve immediate suffering, while men gravitate toward more capitalist straightforward work-into-money jobs. That for me ties back to a culture where boys are raised to exploit women and thus becoming alienated from people in general. It's kind of a wildcard, how you connect your perception and big statistics to nature, nurture, and culture

Well, if JPeterson says so... maybe it ties in with the "dragon of chaos" and the "king of order".

I studied physics and mathematics in Sweden, with lots of female colleagues. At my Uni the 2 most segregated subjects were philosophy (only men) and gender studies (only women). Of course thinks may have changed since the nineties.

Yeah, I had a similar experience — I studied Maths in Portugal , and that degree was about 50/50, as was Physics. A clear gender separation was visible in the (overwhelmingly female) chemistry department and the (overwhelmingly male) electrotechnic engineering department, though.

> it's dominated by two kinds of people: people obsessed by the topic, in the autistic spectrum

People discussing the so-called gender gap* in software engineering education always forget a "little" details: learning to program takes a lot of time and dedication. Basically, at least two/three years of 10 hours+ a day (university classes and homework, plus personal reading and projects). Most of this time is spend alone, behind a computer. Very few people are willing to follow this lifestyle, girls even more so because of the lack of face to face human contact it implies.

* which is not a real issue anyway: the software isn't worst because of the lack of women creating it. In addition, the same people are totally fine with 80-100% girls in language and humanities degrees which means their real goal isn't "equality", which is reached already because universities don't select people and education is free (speaking of France here; we hear the same gender-gap bullshit).

Over my career, I've taught several people to code, from a standing start, and all of them were productive long before your 2-3 years alone --- I don't think I'm a good enough teacher to have kept anyone engaged without having them be able to get real-world tasks done after a few weeks --- and none of them spent 10+ hours a day. Programmers, I think, want to believe that serious developers have to train in a Shaolin monastery to achieve proficiency, but the reality is much more banal.

And, obviously to anyone who works in the industry, software development is a team sport. I spent a couple years as a product marketing manager back at Arbor Networks, doing no software development at all, just product pricing and definition and sales team enablement, and I take more meetings as a software developer than I ever did as a PM. So the idea that women are deterred from tech because it's so antisocial doesn't hold up, either.

>serious developers have to train in a Shaolin monastery

Heh. And don't forget that they have to have "passion," been playing with computers before they could walk, spend all their spare time doing side projects in GitHub, etc.

There are few fields where there's such a widespread sense of exceptionalism with a belief that studying a field in university and then simply working conscientiously at it in a day job is considered utterly inadequate by so many.

>> Programmers, I think, want to believe that serious developers have to train in a Shaolin monastery to achieve proficiency, but the reality is much more banal.

Wait. You mean the ten years I spent in K'un-Lun learning how to press Return before I was allowed to declare my first variable ... doesn't _everybody_ have to do that?

> Over my career, I've taught several people to code, from a standing start, and all of them were productive long before your 2-3 years alone

What background did these people have? Are you sure it's not sampling bias?

I taught programming to a class of kids who didn't choose to be there: their parents made them come. Some kids were immediately "naturals", the rest struggled, and the gap remained no matter what we tried.

Maybe natural interest for whatever reason rather than necessarily aptitude. I find it pretty unsurprising that if kids make up their mind that they don't like something, maybe they can be brought around but more likely they'll suffer through and make no effort to learn.

> I've had the luxury of teaching programming to a revolving class of kids who didn't want to do it: their parents made them come.

This sounds like a common problem across all subjects.

I wasn't teaching children. No clue what it's like teaching kids to code.

You're really overstating how hard it is to learn to program.

I'm a woman who studied physics and astronomy at university. In my final year I taught myself programming in my spare time because I was interested in it, and knew the job prospects were better than in physics. I had other hobbies and an active dating life at the time, but I still managed to get a software job straight out of university, and it's evolving into a fruitful career.

Learning to program in no way requires 3 years of monastic devotion.

Function, parameters, modules, classes, objects, variables, interface, co and contravariance, structs, union... Functional programming, database (data normalization, SQL, no-sql), OS stuffs (process, scheduling, virtual memory), virtual machines, linkers and loaders, compilation, interpretation, compilers (language theory & implementation), HTML et al., networks (ip addressing, domain name, socket), software architecture, design patterns, security issues, memory management, IPC, containers, deployment, CI, encoding (Unicode, UTF8, ASCII), IO, various file formats... List, tree (binary, balanced, implementation), hashset, graph, stack, FIFO. Back-end, mobile, windowed app, game... etc, etc.

I see there is a lot of genius in this thread, having come across all these concepts and got a working understanding of all these things in a few weeks/months. I'm 10 years in and I still learn weekly. Either Dunning–Kruger is in full effect or you internalized so many thing you don't see them anymore.

Yeah, this is pretty much my thoughts as well. Even aside from the large range of topics out there, there's a massive gap from "can do something useful" to "can program well / in a maintainable way".

One of my dormmates in college was in some engineering degree, I forget what, and decided to learn some programming from us, since so many of us were in CS. It was a pretty short time before he could do useful things, actually helping him finish his projects faster, but all that took was some very basic concepts: arrays, loops, conditionals. I think on the order of a week to get the concepts down and be able to write a C program from scratch, and another week or two before he had the concepts embedded in his mind enough to use it with his own work.

Thing is, even that was far faster than I typically saw for those same concepts, as a Teacher's Assistant for the introductory CS courses. The engineering mindset seemed to give him some sort of foundation to pick it up faster, even having never done it before.

And his code was absolutely terrible, he had a long, long way to go if he ever wanted to even consider programming as a profession.

> learning to program takes a lot of time and dedication. Basically, at least two/three years of 10 hours+ a day (university classes and homework, plus personal reading and projects)

That's absurd. I didn't devote anywhere near that amount of time to learning to program. I did it, in three languages (four, if Verilog counts), over the course of 8 classes in an EE undergrad program. Sure, it took longer to get good at it. Getting good just required actually building things, but not for anywhere near 10 hours a day.

>> Most of this time is spend alone, behind a computer. Very few people are willing to follow this lifestyle, girls even more so because of the lack of face to face human contact it implies.

I don't follow. What does face to face human contact have to do with being a girl? Can you clarify?

I hope looking at who is overwhelmingly doing teaching, nursing and retail jobs isn't too triggering.

Ah, I see. You are not interested in a serious discussion between adults.

From the Wikipedia article "Neuroscience of sex differences":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_sex_difference... Lateralization appears to differ between in the sexes with men having a more lateralized brain. This is based on differences in "left" and "right" brained abilities. One factor which contributes support to the idea that there is a sex difference in brain lateralization is that men are more likely to be left handed. However, it is unclear whether this is due to a difference in lateralization.[6]

Meta-analysis of grey matter in the brain found sexually dimorphic areas of the brain in both volume and density. When synthesized, these differences show volume increases for males tend to be on the left side of systems, while females generally see greater volume in the right hemisphere.[2] However, based on a number of studies using different measurement techniques, there is no significant difference between male and female brain lateralization

If you divided people into athletes and pianists, you would find dimorphic brain differences too, because

1. We learn

2. Learning is physical, because it occurs in the brain

3. Over time, learning is reflected in detectable physical differences in the brain

The reason that studies like this one are looking at children is that they are trying to minimize the role of established patterns of use in creating brain differences. In other words, differences arising from culture.

.. isn't the relevance of this specifically what the top-of-thread article is arguing against? That the existence of brain dimorphism doesn't actually affect the problem solving?


I sympathize with your sentiment, but uncivil comments are likely to be downvoted / flagged.

Care to explain e.g. the difference in size with men having larger brains on average? (between 8% and 13% larger)


Brain size doesn't correlate very well with intelligence amongst humans, while average brain differences between men and women are both nuanced and not universal.

I know but that doesn't answer the question how culture makes male brains bigger which is the statement of OP

Men have bigger brains most likely because they have bigger bodies. Bigger bodies need bigger brains to control them. But there are differences in the relative proportions of grey vs white matter for example, so in this case size most likely doesn't matter.

It does however mean that the GP's Every time sexists come out with "brain differences", we find they are culture differences. is factually wrong (unless you can somehow explain brain size culturally).

A better argument would be that every time brain differences were found, they turn out to be irrelevant. However, I'm not sure even that is true, considering some colleges are experimenting with mental rotation training to help female engineering students, with good results: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/43802/can-teaching-spatial-sk... That example also shows identifying gender differences is not a bad thing; it allows coming up with ways to compensate.

Women's bodies _are_ different from men's in a number of ways, so it is likely that their brains are different for similar reasons. But brains are very plastic in their functions - you can live quite happily if born with only half a one, for example.

But the plasticity means that cultural practises are likely to have an effect on brains, in the same way that London Cabbies famously have over developed hippocampus with more nerve cells than they had before due to the requirements of their jobs.

Finding brain differences does not, therefore, mean that the differences are genetic or directly gender related, but could be culturally generated through different roles being adopted for social reasons.

Men have larger body mass on average. For example, the difference is about 10 kg. (20 lb.) in the US:


It seems pretty clear that absolute brain mass is not that important, but the ratio of brain to body mass, is. For example, whales famously have (much) larger brains than humans, but are not (considered) as intelligent as humans.


The brain of the sperm whale is the largest, five times heavier than a human’s. The adult sperm whale brain is 8,000 cubic centimeters weighing about 8 kg (18 lb), while ours is about 1300 cubic centimeters. A human brain can weigh 1.5 kg in adulthood.

Note again: sperm whales have five times more brains than humans.

Going to actual citation in that article, "Males have on average larger overall absolute volumes (i.e. not corrected for body size) in each volume category (see Table 3), ranging from 8% to 13% larger volume in males." ... aren't males generally physically larger overall? Granted, 8-13% feels like it's disproportionate, but I'd want to check that before drawing any conclusions.

Is correcting for body size correct? If it takes X mass of brain to run the human body, than the larger brain has more cells free to do something other than run the body. Or in other words, how much of a larger brain is required to run a larger body - if the scale isn't linear then I'd expect the larger brain to be "smarter"

As the other posters have said, size doesn't seem to correlate to anything. More than that I don't know.

That's a fair question. I'm given to understand that brain size doesn't directly scale with intelligence (consider sperm whale vs dolphin vs human), but for all I know that's only true between species? Actually now that I'm thinking about it, I'm pretty sure there are pathologies where the brain is too big, but one shouldn't conclude much on pathological cases. So.... I dunno. Maybe?

Anyway one complication between species is we know that brains are composed and are laid out differently which affects density and distribution. Cephalopods for instance lack mylenation and appear to have their brain functions a bit more distributes to the point that they occasionally have "rogue arms" which act dysfunctional to the point the host decides to just chew it off and eventually regenerate a "sane" replacement.

It is probably a very rough approximation anyway as it doesn't account for what a given body is. A brain the size of a gnat would be insufficient to handle a body the size of an elephant but that doesn't say how relevant the difference is even in the same order of magnitude. A morbid observation of hunters and tanners is that anything the brain of anything they skin is enough to tan its hide. Now that is clearly a chemical process with a very remote relation to actual processing capability given that tanin can subsitute for tanning but not thinking but it does hint at a lower bound size constraint for even the dumbest vertabrate.

That aside the point is there would be less nerve input for the brain to process from five grams of fat, five grams of skin, or say an organ like the eye. Let alone any other other details it must acount or provide for. Further complicating things is neural plasticity - if I recall correctly "optical" areas of the born blind tend to be repurposed for other senses as opposed to say mathematical ability.

TL;DR: There is evidence but certainly not good enough to tell us anything about sex differences in humans.

Same reason men have bigger feet.

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