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Monday, January 09, 2006

 

Face it: Brains are plastic.

Another brain study showing differences between gays and straights.

Comments:
From the implicit logic of your post title, you'll reject findings that demonstrate differences between the brains of men and women, then?
 
You read too much into a title, CK. :) I do not know yet what I think about this new study since I have only seen the news release about it. I thought the release was interesting and wanted to post it. But, as you probably would guess, I do tend to believe gender is more of an essential trait than sexual feelings.
 
Makes sense--I just thought it was an interesting title (I haven't read the study, either.)

And, as you might guess, I tend to think 'gender' is more of a social construct than a biological fixture. Fausto-Sterling's "Sexing the Body" is a good book on the way these brain studies get (mis)interpreted.
 
Sorry CK -- you've prob. mentioned it before somewhere, so forgive me.

Do you mean "gender" is a social construct, or "gender-based behaviour"? (Or even "gender expectations" or "gender roles" etc?)

The second I'd agree fully with; the first is, umm, kind of pretending some very obvious physiological differences don't exist. I'm assuming your ref. to Fausto-Sterling indicates likewise :)
 
Grantdale, yes I'd say gender expectations is a good paraphrase. I'm not denying certain physiological differences. The problem is in the whole package society puts together under 'gender.'

(Fausto-Sterling goes further than I would, but I think some of her basic points are very valid.)
 
Thanks ck, and good :) Makes sense now.

And I'll rush to say it before some viewer questions me: even most of the observed physiological differences follow a bell-shaped curve. The claims of difference are often comparing an average (eg upper body strength, conversational vocabulary, whatever) between men and woman and it's vital to remember that such observed differences show enormous cross over.

The chattiest person I know is a (straight) guy. Our last house guest was a woman that I'd want on my side in a bar fight (not that I have those, nor she, but you get my drift).

I understand the positions that the ol' fashioned "Wimmims Lib" needed to adopt to breakdown stereotypes, but sometimes real physiological differences and the social ones got rather conflated.

I'm glad that all these decades later "we" appear to have a much more balanced view -- both men and women, as a whole, are not as much prisoners to a comparison to point averages. Even when they do exist, those averages don't determine what any individual man or women "must" be; because that attitude cannot account for the cross-over in those bell-shaped curves.

Yeah for liberation sister!

(grantdale pokes fist in air. burns bra. fields complaint from woman who was wearing bra at the time. discovers how expensive good bras are.)
 
Grantdale: "even most of the observed physiological differences follow a bell-shaped curve. The claims of difference are often comparing an average (eg upper body strength, conversational vocabulary, whatever) between men and woman and it's vital to remember that such observed differences show enormous cross over."

That's what I thought was good about Fausto-Sterling's work. Even she took back her suggestion about there being seven (or was it six?) sexes. The cases of people born with 'ambiguous' genitalia (or chromosomes, hormones) stand as evidence against our supposed dichotomies, not because they are "normal" (they, like gay people are statistically rare--but not THAT rare), but because the touchstones used to measure their normality would exclude many who are 'biologically male' or female.

Transgenderism is another issue which leads me to think that 'gender' as we use the word (I try to use the word 'sex' if I mean sheer physioogy) is plastic, like brains (sorry, Dr T!). I am still not 100% on the issue, but my experiences with transgendered people are changing my viewpoint.
 
This study says nothing about the etiology of homosexuality, nor does it say anything about whether it is present at birth, or learned.

The researchers themselves merely say that people who identify as gay have different brain responses than people who identify as straight. The etiology was never identified.

It is not the intention of the researchers to argue the innateness of gay-ness anyways.

However, I suspect that some may seek to use this research to (incorrectly) bolster their case that gayness has a purely biological etiology.
 
Well to be as fair as possible, we do not know if the genetic link is incorrect but this study cannot be used to prove it. It seems to read more like a learned response of the brain that does then become channelized by repetitive behavior. I cannot help but think of Swoopes.
 
"It seems to read more like a learned response of the brain that does then become channelized by repetitive behavior. I cannot help but think of Swoopes."

Which doesn't go to a) where the impulse for the original brain response comes from--Swoopes didn't decide to 'learn her behavior' by repetitive conditioning; b) the morality of said 'learned response'; c) the whole realm of other potentially 'learned responses' which we now view as innate.

So yes, it is but one study and I will take it as such...but it's a piece of the puzzle.
 
Sorry about the delay -- had to go find the thing on this increasing messy hard drive.

(There are others I have, but this is a good layman's write up)

This was (as anon points out) a study of face recognition, with some side data collected about the sexuality of the subjects.

What was intriguing is that face recognition is one of the first observable responses from new born (human) babies. Why, who knows; but we can hazard some very reasonable and practical reasons. Babies know Mum (almost) from get go.

So for the nature/nuture split... the early response -- from birth -- would suggest a strong biological connection. I'd suggest a hard-wired, genetic cause for that readiness.

But, of course, it takes a first glimpse of Mum before the image is clicked into place. What is interesting is that human babies attach so firmly to human faces, not just the first thing that hoves into view from birth. I'm kind of grateful we don't imprint like ducklings :P

For me, one's native language bears comparison.
 
Warren and CK,

I tend to think that many things that we take to be innate are actually learned. We just don't remember, since it happend so early on. For instance, I feel that I was born with the ability to speak english; it feels so natural and right to speak and think in english, just as some person's sexual orientation might feel. Yet I believe that it is not purely biological. Sure, we are biologically pre-disposed to speak a language. Yet WHICH language, I think is determined by a host of other factors.

Same with sex. We are biologically predisposed to have a sex drive. Yet, the direction that it goes I feel is not a simple matter of born that way.

Or even face recognition. A baby is biologically predisposed to recognize faces. Yet, we must not make the huge jump to saying that because a gay man has a different brain response to man's face, that he was "born that way." Logically it doesn't seem to fit to me.

AND...luckily the researchers aren't stupid enough to make this jump. In fact, there is no mention of it in the original article.
 
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