Rodent brain in sex claim shocker

Those tenacious chaps over at Language Log have followed up Louann Brizendine’s claims that men have a ‘defend your turf area’ by chasing up the references in her ominous new book The Male Brain which is showing all the signs of being as scientifically shaky as the last one.

Like a couple of people who commented on our post, they picked up on my previous and erroneous remark that the dorsal premammilliary nuclei had not been identified in humans – it has, but its function, as far as I know, has never been studied in humans (the previous post has now been updated).

Language Log also note that many of the Brizendine’s claims seem to be drawn from directly from rat studies and just assumed to apply to humans even when they specifically refer to, er, cat odor.

In other words, the DPN is involved in rats’ (passive) defensive responses to the presence of a cat, or even just to cat odor, but not to other sorts of threats such as the open arms of a maze, or an electric shock to the foot, where odor is not involved. Thus the DPN is more (and also less) than “the defend-your-turf area” in rats ‚Äî it responds to predator threats as well as threats from dominant conspecifics, but it’s apparently not involved in more active or aggressive forms of defense. Who knows what its homologue’s functions are in humans ‚Äì but presumably the mediation of instinctive “freezing, avoidance, and stretch” responses to cat odor are not among them.

The book was just reviewed in The New York Times which also wasn’t impressed by its scientific basis, noting “Brizendine‚Äôs trick, after all, is to give a scientific veneer to ‚ÄúMen Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.‚Äù”, although you can bet it will still be all over the glossy magazines.

To be fair, I’ve not read Brizendine’s new book, although I read the last one and her ‘male brain’ articles I’ve read so far just seem equally dodgy.

Link to Language Log on ‘The defend-your-turf area?’.
Link to NYT review.

One Comment

  1. Tiffany P
    Posted April 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    This makes me think of the strange effects of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It makes a rat unafraid of cats. It also is supposed to be pretty common in humans and the effects are quite different in human males and females.


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