No one writes an article about a study showing that medicine “x” is as good as “y” when it comes to making a muscle relax. Or that there is no difference between people reading books and video games. Or that girls are just as good on some tasks as boys are. Scientific reports and ideas shall suggest a difference to be noticed. Only results suggesting a difference get headlines – the file-drawer effect -studies showing no difference are hidden in researchers file drawers. Finding a significant difference is simply more interesting, we love to categorise things, and making things fit nicely into different categories is easier.
Neuroscientist Lise Eliot set out to examine sex difference between boys and girls – something that from the start looked like a straightforward task. She could simply link differences between girls and boys to their differences in brain development. Boys and girls and different and many parents can cite numerous differences between their sons and daughter. They often have different interest and their emotional reactions are different. Media often report on various differences between the sexes – boys are at greater risk for most of the major learning and developmental disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit discords. In many countries, particularly in the Western World, girls are more likely to get better marks than boys are.
However, Lise Eliot found few differences when she started to look into data more closely. She challenged the notion that sex differences are “hard-wired” by studying results related to sex differences and no-sex differences. She suggests that there are small differences between boys and girls’ brains at birth but neuroplasticity – our brain’s ability to change throughout life – shapes children’s gender development. The gap between the sexes grows partly because of the way we treat and expect boys and girls to act and behave and not because of differences in the brain.
Focusing on extreme results has lead to stereotyping. Examining statistics is vital and in some cases, we exaggerate results. In 1982, a study with 5 females and 9 males was published that suggested that corpus callous, a fibre bundle that connects our two brain hemispheres, is larger in females. This result is still cited and the revision of fifty similar studies suggests that there is no difference is forgotten and has rarely been noticed by media. In addition, recent results suggesting that there are no differences between girls and boys and male and female fetuses are also largely ignored.
In a similar way, when we are comparing results from two organisations or departments in our company, it is easy to exaggerate the difference; we rarely explore results that suggest that two companies get similar results despite using different strategies. Thinking should explore and examine differences as well as similarities.Finding the points where to more or less similar groups or items start to differentiate is vital to gain a complete picture. When it comet to sex differences, we can detect differences in the way children choose toys around the age of three – watch the videos to find out more.
Photo: “Row Of Color Bokeh ” by wiangya