At this week’s annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, panelists were quick to recognize that sex-difference research is easily abused and can justify sexism. That drew a sharp question from two female researchers in the audience who expressed concern that political correctness too often prevents researchers from asking purely scientific questions. If a few guidelines are kept in mind while pursuing research, sexism can be easily avoided.
What’s the Big Idea?
Given the complexity of the brain, any neuroscience explanation that relies on a single factor is probably misleading, says Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the U of Cambridge. Genetics matter but so does socialization. And socialization can matter a great deal in experiments themselves: Women have been found to perform worse on cognitive exams when they are told men are better at it. Given how rapidly our understanding of the brain has advanced in the last decade, we must be cautious when drawing social conclusions from purely physical data.