intellectual vanities… about close to everything

Boys And Girls Brains Are Different – More On Modern Phrenology

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Functional MRI is soon going to replace old Gall’s phrenology for sure, and it does successfully ignore biological facts, that there is no such thing like a sexual dimorphism (s. A. Fausto-Sterling for an overview). Although (f)MRI in itself is a great tool of imaging, its results won’t be better than the questions to which it is applied, nor will it make the interpretation of results independent of thinking patterns, however outdated they might be.

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers measured brain activity in 31 boys and in 31 girls aged 9 to 15 as they performed spelling and writing language tasks.

The tasks were delivered in two sensory modalities — visual and auditory. When visually presented, the children read certain words without hearing them. Presented in an auditory mode, they heard words aloud but did not see them.

Using a complex statistical model, the researchers accounted for differences associated with age, gender, type of linguistic judgment, performance accuracy and the method — written or spoken — in which words were presented.

Girls then still showed significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys. The information in the tasks got through to girls’ language areas of the brain — areas associated with abstract thinking through language. And their performance accuracy correlated with the degree of activation in some of these language areas.

This was not at all the case for boys. In boys, accurate performance depended — when reading words — on how hard visual areas of the brain worked. In hearing words, boys’ performance depended on how hard auditory areas of the brain worked.

If that pattern extends to language processing that occurs in the classroom, it could inform teaching and testing methods. There is no reason though to extend this series of discrete observations into a general rule , in the first place. Applying this fictitious rule to any more complex process is even less justifiable, however plausible the hypothesis might sound. On top of it, there would be still no certainty about “nurture or nature” bringing such differences along.

“One possibility is that boys have some kind of bottleneck in their sensory processes that can hold up visual or auditory information and keep it from being fed into the language areas of the brain,” Douglas D. Burman, research associate in Northwestern’s Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, said. Who makes such statements grounded on series of 62 examinations certainly has a kind of methodological bottleneck in his scientific thinking and tries rather to make good news than good science.

Burman, concludes further: “Our findings — which suggest that language processing is more sensory in boys and more abstract in girls — could have major implications for teaching children and even provide support for advocates of single sex classrooms.” This reminds one sadly about the “Corpus-callosum”-dispute which was carried out with the same shaky statistics of small numbers in order to prove differences of brain structure between the sexes – to no avail.

Article in Press, Corrected Proof – Note to users
doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021 Copyright © 2007 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Sex differences in neural processing of language among children

Douglas D. Burmana, b, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Tali Bitanc and James R. Bootha, b

aDepartment of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
bDepartment of Radiology, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, Evanston, IL, USA
cDepartment of Communication Disorders, Haifa University, Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Israel
Received 19 April 2007; revised 17 October 2007; accepted 14 December 2007. Available online 4 January 2008.


Why females generally perform better on language tasks than males is unknown. Sex differences were here identified in children (ages 9–15) across two linguistic tasks for words presented in two modalities. Bilateral activation in the inferior frontal and superior temporal gyri and activation in the left fusiform gyrus of girls was greater than in boys. Activation in the left inferior frontal and fusiform regions of girls was also correlated with linguistic accuracy irregardless of stimulus modality, whereas correlation with performance accuracy in boys depended on the modality of word presentation (either in visual or auditory association cortex). This pattern suggests that girls rely on a supramodal language network, whereas boys process visual and auditory words differently. Activation in the left fusiform region was additionally correlated with performance on standardized language tests in which girls performed better, additional evidence of its role in early sex differences for language.


Written by huehueteotl

March 6, 2008 at 2:37 pm

One Response

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  1. Oh boy, I was a little lost down the corrider, turning down one hall instead of the other. I can’t stop reading your blog! AND, I posted my response to your OCD Cognitive Behavioral article to another article. Was my face red! Oh, I am Chiricahua Apache, in case anyone cares. I am looking for studies on neurological or any old physiological changes, for that matter, of those subjected to, let’s say politely, “unnatural swift and reluctant assimilation”.

    As if you aren’t an exercise in synchronicity enough, I accidently open the “Phrenology…” door. I have been doing a long-term research project on Dr. Orsen Fowler, the sort of Victorian’ era Clown-Prince of Phrenology (prior to its’ debunking), as I am the G-G-G-Granddaughter of Chief Mangas Coloradas. I have been searching for his missing skull for some time now. Are you at all familiar with his story? Thanks again, truly. I shall return, I am sure of that!

    Oh, if you visit Southern Mexico, don’t drink the blood! Bring your own, bottled preferably!

    Hollywood, CA.

    p(O) Gooday

    March 1, 2009 at 6:50 pm

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