One of the most regularly recited pieces of popular neuroscience is that women are more likely to use both hemispheres of the brain to process language while men tend only to use one. It turns out, this is a myth – it is simply not supported by the current evidence.
In 2008, a meta-analysis study looked at all the evidence for differences in the balance of language processing in the brains of men and women. It looked at studies on sex differences in handedness, brain structure, on perception of words heard exclusively in the left or right ears, and neural activity recorded by brain scans during language tasks.
When you look at all the studies together, there are no reliable sex differences in word processing or language-related brain activity. Men and women did not differ in how their brains processed language.
She notes how an initial study, published in Nature in 1995, did find results in line with the common myth, but that these results were not replicated.
At the time, however, they got widely publicised – making headlines around the world – and they remain the basis for the common claim despite numerous subsequent studies that suggest this is not the case.
This, notes Eliot, is a common pattern in sex difference research. Results that confirm our steroetypes get widely reported, others are largely ignored by the media.
I really recommend her talk over at Fora.tv and I will look forward to reading the book once I get my hands on a copy.