Sex beyond the genitalia: The Human Brain mosaic

Sex/gender differences in the brain are of high social interest because their presence is typically assumed to prove that humans belong to two distinct categories not only in terms of their genitalia, and thus justify differential treatment of males and females. Here we show that, although there are sex/gender differences in brain and behavior, humans and human brains are comprised of unique “mosaics” of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males. Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain.

The lack of internal consistency in human brain and gender characteristics undermines the dimorphic view of human brain and behavior and calls for a shift in our conceptualization of the relations between sex and the brain. Specifically, we should shift from thinking of brains as falling into two classes, one typical of males and the other typical of females, to appreciating the variability of the human brain mosaic. Scientifically, this paradigm shift entails replacing the currently dominant practice of looking for and listing sex/gender differences with analysis methods that take into account the huge variability in the human brain (rather than treat it as noise), as well as individual differences in the specific composition of the brain mosaic. At the social level, adopting a view that acknowledges human variability and diversity has important implications for social debates on longstanding issues such as the desirability of single-sex education and the meaning of sex/gender as a social category.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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