This is a guest post by Georgina Rippon, who is Professor of Cognitive Imaging and Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) at Aston University.

Brain myth bustingHaving trained up an army of neurotrash warriors at last year’s WOW festival, this year we have set ourselves the task of busting a few of the brain-based gender myths. Sometimes these are still being propped up by more or less hapless peddlars of neurotrash but in others, more worryingly, by brain researchers showing marked symptoms of neurosexism.

As with many brain myths there is some general inquisitorial ammunition that you can arm yourself with

  • Can we ‘sex’ the brain?
  • When is a difference not a difference?
  • Do we know everything we need to know about the people whose brains are being compared- what if all the males are taxi-drivers and the women are bilingual jugglers?
  • Does our brain image show ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’?
  • Are our brain scientists rigorously objective with wonderfully value-free paradigms or is there ever a whiff of stereotyping in their choice of measures?

We’re going to focus on a few myths to start with, chosen because they illustrate nicely some of the “I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That” [thanks to Ben Goldacre] tenets outlined above. As with many myths, sometimes there is a kernel of truth which we must hold our hands up to, but sometimes it’s a ‘truth’ which has changed over time or has become part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And sometimes mega-myths have mini-myths embedded within them!

So if you want to know whether bigger brains are better brains , if male brains are map-reading brains, if female brains can’t be maths brains, and if male ‘spotlight’ brains can’t multi-task, then come along to WOW on Saturday  or watch this space!

Gina Rippon @springfield16