Nature vs nurture
Are men’s and women’s brains wired differently? They certainly are, Dr Michael Mosley tells ANNA BRAIN
SUFFERING from man flu? Imagine a future where man medicine is the cure.
Dr Michael Mosley says that day may come.
In Is Your Brain Male or Female? Mosley teams up with Professor Alice Roberts to crack the nature vs nurture debate.
“I’m pushing the line that the differences [between our brains] are significant, and Alice thinks it’s all a bit overstated,” Mosley says.
“The thing I found very interesting was research where they looked at female and male brains and found that the wiring was different.
“There were also areas around pain research, and the fact that men and women can experience pain differently.
“One of the scientists was saying he could imagine a time when we would have different medications, different painkillers for men and women. Pink ones for girls, blue for boys, because the way that we respond to pain appears to be different.”
Of course “pink for girls and blue for boys” is a social construct, the kind of thing that Mosley and Roberts attempt to keep separate from the influence of genes and hormones.
They conduct several experiments, testing male and female skillsets.
“For me, one of the most amazing things was when I go off to repeat an experiment with macaque monkeys, we release toys and see what preference the monkeys show,” Mosley says.
“The males did tend to go for the trucks, and it was very funny watching them squabble about it. One of them would grab the truck and run off with it up a tree and wave it at the others.
“The scientist who’d done the original research was saying you can understand female macaque monkeys might go for the dolls. The females tend to look after the young. But no one could understand why the males should be so attracted to the trucks. She thinks it’s something to do with motion.”
For every rule there are plenty of exceptions and Mosley says his own daughter is one.
“My daughter happens to be very good at maths,” he says. “But I’m sad to say she doesn’t enjoy science, we haven’t worked out why.
“Alice makes the very important point that it’s incredibly important women should not be put off doing science.
“We need more women in science, particularly in the areas such as physics and computer science.
“And she makes the really valid point that if we have expectations that because you’re a girl you can’t do maths, clearly that will influence you.” IS YOUR BRAIN MALE OR FEMALE? MONDAY, 7.30PM, SBS1