Dr. Louann Brizendine Talks The Female Brain

This comprehensive new look at the hormonal roller coaster that rules women’s lives down to the cellular level, “a user’s guide to new research about the female brain and the neurobehavioral systems that make us women,” offers a trove of information, as well as some stunning insights. Though referenced like a work of research, Brizedine’s writing style is fully accessible. Brizendine provides a fascinating look at the life cycle of the female brain from birth (“baby girls will connect emotionally in ways that baby boys don’t”) to birthing (“Motherhood changes you because it literally alters a woman’s brain-structurally, functionally, and in many ways, irreversibly”) to menopause (when “the female brain is nowhere near ready to retire”) and beyond. At the same time, Brizedine is not above reviewing the basics: “We may think we’re a lot more sophisticated than Fred or Wilma Flintstone, but our basic mental outlook and equipment are the same.” While this book will be of interest to anyone who wonders why men and women are so different, it will be particularly useful for women and parents of girls.

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5 Comments
  1. malpaz 5 years ago

    just found your blog through martins tweet….looks like i got some reading to do looks like good stuff!!! glad i found it!

  2. Profile photo of Andrew
    Andrew 5 years ago

    Well I'm glad you found it too! Welcome…

  3. Calvin 4 years ago

    Carol Tavris' has a review of Cordelia Fine's exposé Delusions of Gender: the Real Science Behind Sex Differences, which tears into Brizendine a bit.

    Here's an excerpt:

    Fine "tracked down every single neuroscience study that Brizendine cited as evidence for feminine superiority in empathy and “mind reading”, the alleged reason that wives know what their husbands are thinking before their husbands do. (They do?) She found “the deployment of some rather misleading practices”, which proves to be an understatement. Brizendine claims that the female brain has more mirror neurons (brain cells that fire in mimicry when a person or animal observes others carrying out an action) than the male brain, hence enabling greater female empathy. Brizendine has five references for this assertion: one study, published in Russian, of a postmortem dissection of frontal lobes, in which mirror neurons could therefore not be observed in action; three studies of mirror neurons, none of which compared males and females; and one “personal communication” with a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard, who, when asked by Fine to confirm the finding, said that not only had she never communicated with Brizendine; her own work had also failed to find any sex differences in mirror neuron functioning."
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_a

    Might be worthwhile not to take everything Dr. Louann Brizendine says at face value.

    • Author
      Andrew 4 years ago

      First of all, it's science so I wouldn't recommend taking anything at face value. Of course, I'm including your reference in this equally. Perhaps a bit more so as I'm not 100% certain of the rigor of the entertainment section of The Sunday Times. I don't harbor any allegiance to Dr. Brizendine, but I don't find this sort of find some less than stellar references in a few-hundred-page book and imply that it discredits the entire endeavor critique presented in the article to be particularly persuasive.

      For another perspective, here's a review of Brizendine's book from the journal Evolutionary Psychology [PDF]

      So, Calvin… let's get right down to it… what's your position here? Assuming for a moment that the mirror neuron claim isn't fully supported, are the ideas as posed in the video, and/or book, refuted, or merely in the limbo of hypothesis status? If some of the ideas aren't borne out by the data, is Dr. Brizendine's position that male and female brains are different effectively undermined in a significant way? Is this a matter of incorrect data, insufficient data, politics, career positioning between two scientists, grant fodder?

      A glance at Dr. Fine's website reveals no short supply of her feminist credentials amongst the academic. As I've written elsewhere (with deference to the references cited), feminism is a political position which should come second to science for all claiming to practice science… hence my skepticism (cynicism?) at the end of the previous paragraph.

      The main problem I have with this sort of critique is that it fails to take into account measurable behavioral differences between the sexes. It's easy to say "we can't find a physical difference in the brain," and attempt to end the conversation – perhaps factually – there. But all that really tells us is that "we can't find a physical difference in the brain." The lack of understanding from the field of neuroscience doesn't negate the findings from the field of psychology, but highlights the relative lack of understanding (or excessive complexity of the subject) in neuroscience.

      • Calvin 4 years ago

        I definitely agree, the conversation shouldn't end with "we can't find a physical difference in the brain." Apologies, "don't take everything Brizendine says at face value" was my inelegant way of saying that I'm skeptical of some of Brizandine's claims and worry they may be exaggerated. I just wanted to present caution, because I think that just as feminism should come second to science, "neurosexism" as Fine puts it is contributing to the same problem in the same, subtle way–reducing the efficacy of the science.

        And, if what Fine says is true, even if Brizandine's examples of poor references are the exception to the rule, they still amount to a level of deceit that I don't appreciate. If neuroscience can't really show us that for instance mirror neurons exist in higher numbers in women, even if it's true, then why make the claim? If there are examples in psychology and behavioral studies that support the idea that women have greater empathy, that's one thing. But trying to use neuroscience to make claims unsubstantiated by neuroscience is harmful to her credibility and the discussion of gender differences in the brain.

        And I'm definitely not trying to say neuroscience can't illuminate this issue at all. I certainly don't claim to know much about neuropsychiatry; there are quite obviously differences between males and females and it would seem very strange that these differences wouldn't be reflected in the brain. However, let's not jump the gun; it's easy to see how Brizendine could benefit from making souped up claims, i.e. the exciting claims make for more attention and money.

        I don't want to say that Brizendine isn't producing solid, interesting and enlightening work. It's just frustrating to learn that not everything she suggests is true to the research, and that's my position. I'd rather not be learning ideas that seem to have supporting data only to find out there are some unsubstantiated claims thrown in there that aren't being presented as such. I think the topic is fascinating and don't want to be misled.

        Plus, given all I've leaned about the world of nutrition since finding paleo, it's no longer hard to believe that huge portions of the scientific community could be utterly wrong about a topic. But you're right, it doesn't mean I should just dismiss all that Brizendine says just because of a few bad references; I'd be overcompensating. :)

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