Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Bad science

Posted 08 Jul 10 by Tatyana

While reading Scientific American, I came upon an article titled "Under Threat, Women Bond, Men Withdraw”. It describes the result of a controlled study comparing the responses of men and women to a stressful situation. Guess what situation they used. Tiger or mugger attacks? Nope. Confederates yelling at them? Nope. Taking a test? Nope. They put the hands of some volunteers in extremely cold water, then analyzed their brain activity. They found that brain activity in a certain region (responsible for empathy) was increased in women but suppressed in men.

The fact that the brain responds differently is interesting. But how do you go from that to concluding that this is evidence of women "engaging in nurturing and social networking, perhaps as a way to protect their offspring”? Sure, theory can allow you to make conclusions about the world based on abstract and artificial situations, but in this case the leap is astronomical. It might make a nice story roughly consistent with stereotypes of gender roles in hunter-gatherer societies, but that should be relevant for fiction books, not good science.

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