Brainsex - What do you think? | PDD

Brainsex – What do you think?


on October 16 2013

A recent trip to an evening of short-talks hosted by The Future Laboratory at the suggestion of a colleague resulted in me being utterly transfixed for six minutes by Dr Anne Moir. The subject? Brainsex!

Dr Moir states on her website that there is “conclusive scientific research” that shows a significant difference between a male and a female brain; they are indeed “wired differently”. This is of great personal interest to me as I was taught that there is no significant difference between brains with regard to sex, it was implied that they are structured and function in exactly the same way and that the only biological variance is in the ‘instructions’ sent from the brain to release different hormones pertaining to gender. Basically, a case of XX = more oestrogen and progesterone; XY = more testosterone, and that this in turn affects development and behaviour.
This gender-based difference in neurological wiring was remarkable news to me, I had always questioned hormones, anatomy and environmental /social factors as being the only contributors to our psychology. This scepticism was strengthened when I decided to enter the field of Human Factors, but I kept these thoughts to myself. Well-known titles such as ‘Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps’ and ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ passed me by, as I assumed they were musings with absolutely no scientific basis. I have since been set straight.
Two nuggets of information shared by Dr Moir really astounded me. The first made so much sense I found it incredible that I hadn’t pondered it at some point and the second made no sense to me what-so-ever, but I understand there is a solid scientific grounding behind it:
  1. Yes, a brain has a sex, but “brainsex does not always match bodysex
  2. You can tell what sex your brain is by examining your fingers! Specifically, the comparative length of your index finger and your ring finger on each hand.

To do this, measure from the crease (where your fingers meet the palm) to the tip; a longer index finger indicates a typical female brain and a longer ring finger indicates a typical male brain, however, you can have one of each which would require further investigation.

Featured image credit: PDD. Above image credit: 33rd Square.

But what does this all mean?
The big questions buzzing around my (male) brain include:
  • Do most transsexuals and homosexuals have a brain gender that doesn’t correlate with their bodysex?
  • What are the brainsexes of ‘great minds’? And are there differences according to field/focus?
  • What are the brainsexes of leading politicians?
  • What are the brainsexes of top athletes? And does this change with regards to sport/focus?
  • And finally; has this changed over time?

Until more specific research can be done in order to shed light onto my burning questions, Dr Moir’s insights have more practical applications. They’re increasingly being used in marketing, as they give an insight into how a male or female brain might react to different stimuli. Apparently, brainsex can indicate occupational suitability, lead to better understanding within relationships and target our optimal learning style. Interestingly, Dr Moir points out that our current educational system favours female brains, which is why girls tend to progress quicker and better than boys.

From my perspective, not only is this fascinating, I think this research could be incredibly useful to the field of Human Factors, contributing to our comprehension of mental processes, such as how people think, perceive, remember and learn. If we can get a better understanding of how users think and react to a product or service, even on a high level, then we are more informed and capable of designing for them.