Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Evidence of gender differences

I've always thought it obvious that men and women differ in fundamental ways, both physical and non-physical. Scientists have been documenting differences in the way our brains are built and work for quite some time. Now this [via Kathryn Jean Lopez]:

In all likelihood, we’d have a better H1N1 vaccine — and more of it — if in our preparations we had accounted for the biological differences between men and women. . . .

Many clinical studies have shown that men and women differ in their responses to several viral vaccines. A recent study demonstrated that women produce as many antibodies in response to a half dose of the seasonal flu vaccine as men make in response to a full dose. Other studies have revealed similar sex differences in response to vaccines for yellow fever virus, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis A and B viruses and herpes simplex virus.

Whether vaccines work differently in males than in females is not known. Clearly, more research on sex-dependent immune responses is needed.

Update: On the other hand, there's this:

In her book about gender, Eliot describes a study of 11-month-olds asked to crawl down a carpeted slope. “The moms pushed a button to change the slope’s angle based on what they thought their children could handle. And then the babies were tested to see how steep a slope they could navigate.”

Girls and boys proved equally adept at crawling and risk-taking: On their own, they tried and conquered the same slopes. But the mothers of the girls — unlike the mothers of the boys — underestimated their daughters’ aptitude by a significant margin.

“Sex differences in the brain are sexy,” Eliot writes. And so we tend to notice them everywhere. “But there’s enormous danger,” she says, in our exaggeration. It leads us to see gender, beginning at an early age, only in terms of what we expect to see, and to assume that sex differences are innate and immutable. . . .

Our assumptions “crystallize into children’s self-perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.” Girls’ slightly lesser interest in puzzles and building toys is reinforced instead of challenged, and it turns into a gap in spatial skills and map reading. Parents and teachers see a boy lagging in reading and verbal skills and shrug it off with, “But of course, he’s a boy.”

The sexist in me wonders if dads would have done any better at estimating the degree of slope their little ones could handle.

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