Catherine Vidal | The sexed brain: between science and ideology

Despite tremendous advances in neuroscience, the topic of "brain, sex and gender" remains a matter of misleading interpretations, that step well beyond the bounds of science. In the 19th century, the size of the brain was a major argument to explain the hierarchy between men and women, supposed to reflect innate differences in mental capacity. Nowadays, our understanding of the human brain has progressed drastically with the development of brain imaging techniques such as MRI. These new tools have revealed the importance of cerebral plasticity and the role of environmental factors in shaping the brain via experience and learning throughout our lives. As a result, all human beings, whatever men or women, have different brains, even identical twins.
However, despite the evidence of brain plasticity, the idea that biology is a major determinant for sex differences in cognition and behavior, is still alive. The media are far from being the only culprits. Some scientific circles actively assist in promoting the idea of a biological determinism relating to differences in aptitude between the sexes. Experimental data coming from brain imaging studies, cognitive tests or the discovery of new genes are often distorted to serve deterministic ideas. The misuse of science for ideological purpose requires a vigilant scrutiny from us all.
The conference of Catherine Vidal will present new advances in the understanding of the various roles of biological, social and cultural factors in building our identities as men and women.