A talk I gave titled “Debating Sex Differences in Cognition: We Can Do Better” now has a home on the web.
The pages align a rough transcript of the talk with the slides, for your browsing pleasure.
Mindhacks.com readers will recognise many of the slides, which started their lives as blog posts. The full series is linked from this first post: Gender brain blogging. The whole thing came about because I was teaching a graduate discussion class on Cordelia Fine’s book, and then Andrew over at psychsciencenotes invited me to give a talk about it.
Here’s a bit from the introduction:
I love Fine’s book. I think of it as a sort of Bad Science but for sex differences research. Part of my argument in this talk is that Fine’s book, and reactions to it, can show us something important about how psychology is conducted and interpreted. The book has flaws, and some people hate it, and those things too are part of the story about the state of psychological research.
5 thoughts on “Debating Sex Differences: Talk transcript”
Fine’s book is a splendid insight on the complexity of truthfinding in science. In less debated topics ofcourse the same pitfalls and prejudices apply. When research results come trickling down via the media to the general public (often aggerated and simplified), they can turn into modern day myths, which are hard to challenge. Most people I meet, especially parents don’t doubt for a moment that the differences between the behaviour of the sexes are all innate. These ideas often belong to the mainstay of professional therapists and psychologists. I think it is more than a decade ago that researchers suggested that children in their puberty couldn’t plan very well because their prefrontal cortices were still unfished and only in their twenties would these brain structures mature enough to allow them to acquire these necessary skills. In the meantime this view has lost ground as results from other research came to light. Likely adolescents can plan just as well as adults, but because they are prone to risktaking and are motivated more by emotions and things that are more relevant to their peergroups than to adults, they make different choices what to apply these skils to. The brain, instead of being unripe, in this period is extra flexible and lets them gain independence.
Which makes sense in respect to evolution ( which in itself is no evidence ofcourse:) )
Now when I look at websites of most childpsychologists and hear other parents talk about their kids, the former view is still accepted as an undisputed truth. Moreover culture still seems saturated with the ideas that Freud gave us. No matter how long these ideas have been challenged and shown incorrect, mainstream thought still holds on to them. I am not optimistic about science being able to overcome the pitfalls of prejudice and intuition in research. For society as a whole I am even more pessimistic that good science will get through.
Greg Cochran reviewed Cordelia Fine’s latest book here:
I noticed that you envoked Stereotype Threat in your linked presentation as a possible explanation of observed gender differences, yet you failed to mention that those studies have not replicated well at all:
I discuss the non-reliability of stereotype threat in the linked presentation (and, indeed, my own paper which detailed a failed replication). Start here http://tomstafford.staff.shef.ac.uk/delusions/30.html
I haven’t read Testosterone Rex, but perhaps – like Delusions of Gender – it doesn’t actually deny the reality of sex differences, and so criticisms which assume it does are misplaced? I discuss here and the slides following http://tomstafford.staff.shef.ac.uk/delusions/4.html
Sorry, missed that. I made my post before I got to the part where you discussed the issues with stereotype threat.
Stuart Ritchie also reviewed Fine’s”Testosterone Rex” here:
“This fits into a pattern: evidence contrary to Fine’s position is often cited, but it’s not mentioned in the text, instead being relegated to endnotes where it can’t cause too much trouble. Witness, for instance, Fine’s mention of “stereotype threat”, where a single supporting study is discussed in the text but a contrary meta-analysis is only mentioned in the endnote. Or her discussion of a 2015 paper on how males’ and females’ brains aren’t essentially different, but are a mosaic of features: you wouldn’t know that four strong scientific critiques of the study had been published (with a response) unless you flick to the back of the book. This allows Fine to use the main text to critique only the most overblown claims about sex differences, and avoid having to deal at length with more reasonable arguments.”
This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I love when you suggest we can read Fine’s books “as a case study of how psychology is done in areas where we all have strong intuitions (that is, most areas of psychology).” In the context of sex, I’ve never given that much thought before – that is, how our intuitions and biases profoundly affect our approach to research and discussion. Very thought provoking!