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brain differences?

Biology brain differences 2008

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#1 offworlder

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 07:55 AM

http://www.time.com/...yahoo-healthsci

I just tripped over this link, on a news sight they stick on links they think you should read,
pretty interesting since I'd never heard of this, symmetrical, asymmetrical, right side larger or not,
areas not previously thought related to sexuality... food for thought.
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#2 Kosh

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 03:09 PM

Interesting. Hope there is follow up on it.
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#3 Rhea

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 07:33 PM

There was other research done on the hypothalmus back in the early 90's that also suggested that the brains of straight and gay people aren't the same. Didn't get a lot of play, I assume because the fact that you might be born with physical differences as a gay person puts paid to the theory that gayness is a lifestyle choice.
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#4 Christopher

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 08:45 PM

As usual, this science news is being misinterpreted by the media.  What's actually being reported is a slight difference between the averages of the different brain types -- that is, the number of (for instance) gay male brains that tend to be slightly more asymmetrical in a certain way is more than half, and so is the number of hetero female brains.  So if you plot out bell curves of the different distributions of brain symmetry, there'll be a lot of overlap, but the average, the peak of the bell curve, will be a little farther in one direction for gay males and hetero females and a little farther in the other direction for gay females and hetero males.  It's a subtle and far from universal variation.

But statistics is a language that's poorly understood in general society, so everyone in the media is misinterpreting this as an absolute -- that all gay brains are one way and all hetero brains are another.  So it's bound to get blown out of proportion.

Here's a blog post that offers some perspective:

http://languagelog.l....edu/nll/?p=256

Note: I'm not saying this to make any kind of political or ideological point -- just to make sure that the actual extent and substance of this finding is not misinterpreted or misused in any way.  I'm all for acceptance of sexual diversity, but I don't think a good cause is helped by basing it on misinterpreted data.  And while I do accept the scientific consensus that sexual orientation is something we're born with rather than an optional "lifestyle choice," I'm also concerned about the possibility that belief in an essential difference could lead to discrimination.  The differences between various types of human being are usually matters of degree, variations on a theme, not essential separateness.  And there's always a wide range of variation within any given group of people.

Edited by Christopher, 18 June 2008 - 08:54 PM.

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#5 BklnScott

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 08:56 PM

View PostRhea, on Jun 18 2008, 08:33 PM, said:

There was other research done on the hypothalmus back in the early 90's that also suggested that the brains of straight and gay people aren't the same. Didn't get a lot of play, I assume because the fact that you might be born with physical differences as a gay person puts paid to the theory that gayness is a lifestyle choice.

Nah, it's because the exceedingly small sample size both in the study you're referencing and in this study, which makes it unwise to draw such sweeping conclusions for large populations.

Definitely interesting stuff, though.

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#6 Christopher

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 09:48 PM

View PostScottEVill, on Jun 18 2008, 09:56 PM, said:

Nah, it's because the exceedingly small sample size both in the study you're referencing and in this study, which makes it unwise to draw such sweeping conclusions for large populations.

Regardless of sample size, it would be mistaken to take this as suggesting anything about large populations; it's merely showing statistical tendencies, not wholesale differences.  For instance, it says that 18 out of 25 hetero males but only 10 out of 20 gay males have rightward asymmetry.  What about the other 7 hetero males and 10 gay males who don't have that asymmetry?  It wouldn't be as sensational if the headlines said, "Half of gay men's brains are different from 2/3 of hetero men's brains," would it?

Also, people are too quick to jump to the conclusion that any observed variation in brain structure or function has a simple, unquestioned cause-and-effect relationship with some behavior or other, and we don't really know enough to say that for sure.  So sample size is just one of the reasons to avoid jumping to conclusions.

Edited by Christopher, 18 June 2008 - 09:53 PM.

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#7 Dev F

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 10:09 PM

One thing that always kind of nags at me regarding these kinds of studies is the media assumption that brain formation is necessarily cause rather than effect. Given the capacity of the human brain to reorganize itself, isn't it just as possible that a particular formation developed as the result of a person's sexual orientation than that it caused said orientation?

And maybe there's a reason why it's not possible, but the media never seems to even ask that question.

#8 Nikcara

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 10:53 PM

The study on the hypothalumuses done during the 90s was also flawed for a reason people don't like to mention - all the men who were gay had died of AIDS, whereas none of the straight men had.  They couldn't conclude that the difference wasn't caused by AIDS somehow.  Also, because both the gay and straight men died of natural causes, and the straight men didn't have HIV, there was also a significant age difference between the two groups.  I don't remember what it was, but it was something like the average heterosexual brain they dissected was from a 60-70 year old, whereas the homosexual ones were like in their 30s.

As for brain structure - yes, the brain has amazing plasticity, but it's really in the ability to forge new connections.  Growing/shrinking structure is possible, but very difficult and is caused by extreme stress, not lifestyle choice.  For example, anorexics on average have less grey matter (the actual neurons) overall because they manage to kill large amounts of their brains through perpetual starvation.  Also, severe chronic stress appears to have damaging effects (ie shrinks) certain parts of the brain, but those volume changes are slight.
I don't know of anything that actually causes certain areas of the brain to grow after puberty (your brain has growth spurts during childhood and puberty.  It also trims what it considers unnecessary during these times, so if there is some function of your brain that you rarely, if ever, use during these times, it becomes much harder to develop later in life.  That's part of why it's so critical to emphasize critical thinking skills in kids and teens)

People who are brain damaged through trauma of some sort can regain use of certain abilities they thought they lost (regain speaking abilities, or whatnot) but that's not because their brain regrew.  Rather, new connections to old areas were formed, or the brain just figured out a new way of getting it done.  The areas in the central nervous system that die are replaced by a type of gial cell that is basically scar tissue.  Because this scar tissue is there, new neurons physically can't grow there.
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#9 MuseZack

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 11:29 PM

I listen to Erasure and bought three shirts from H&M.  Do I have a gay brain? If so, someone please inform my wife. :cool:

Edited by MuseZack, 18 June 2008 - 11:30 PM.

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#10 Bobby

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 05:11 PM

You know, we've had this discussion from time to time before.  One time someone linked to an article by someone from some right wing group, and the man said that even if people are born gay they choose to act on it.  And he was right, nobody chooses to be gay, I know I didn't, but I do choose to act on it.   Now if they find out why people are gay, of course the right will want to find a cure, and they will  be less hostile to abortion.   They'll even rationalize it with leviticus.  But let's say it's something that can't be changed, they'll still have their argument that people choose how to use their bodies.   The best way to beat them is push the point that it doesn't matter why people are gay, just that they are, and that it's none of their business.  

They keep looking for one answer for gay people when it's probably a combination of factors.   Amadinajed(sp?) said there are no gay people in Iran, and any intelligent person knows that's not true, they execute people in Iran for homosexuality so people hide in the closet.   But they are still attracted to members of the same sex, even if they marry women.  In gay porn there is the concept of gay for pay, now I think  99% of the guys are lying to themselves, but if gay men can marry women and have sex and children while they are in the closet, then I'd say 1% of straight men can be gay for pay, or have prison relationships with other men while never being truly attracted to their sex partner.  

Conservatives like to say that people are turned gay if they don't have a good relationship with their same sex parent, but how does that explain gay people who grew up in families with both parents.   And that says nothing of lesbians who are "butch" and gay men who are "feminine".  There is difference in their bone structure in a lot of cases that you can tell just by looking at them.   One should never assume, but most of the time, you can tell when someone in those groups is gay.   And you can tell it from an early age.   We had a neighbor when I was little, he was always asking me to get my older sister to be his girlfriend, anyway, he was always into Madonna and girly things, even came out wearing dresses and stuff, and his fraternal twin brother was masculine, they were nothing alike.  And they were both raised by their butch carpenter father who had them ride dirt bikes.   Yet we all thought he was gay and sure enough, after having dated girls for a while, he came out of the closet.  

I can "pass", whether that's a blessing or a curse, depends on the day and place.   My younger sister is bi, she prefers girls, and recently dated a boy who claimed he was transgendered, he put on women's clothes sometimes.  He said he didn't think my sister was serious when she told him I was gay.   I'm a fashion disaster, well, should I say I just prefer t-shirts and jeans, very laid back.  Although, with what Carson from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy passes off as high fashion, I'm happy not to be en vogue.   And I guarantee you that the majority of people that see Carson automatically assume he's gay.   Stereotypes might be wrong but they come into being for a reason.  

The next question on the great "why" list to be answered is, why do so many gay men like the theater and show tunes?

Edited by Runaway Train, 19 June 2008 - 05:20 PM.


#11 Bobby

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 05:12 PM

View PostMuseZack, on Jun 18 2008, 11:29 PM, said:

I listen to Erasure and bought three shirts from H&M.  Do I have a gay brain? If so, someone please inform my wife. :cool:


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#12 Balderdash

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 07:58 AM

I don't know about this particular study but I do know that if a womans ring finger and her index finger (on either hand I think) is the same size, as viewed from the palm, then she is in fact a lesbian.  :D

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#13 BklnScott

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 07:46 PM

HAHAHAHAHA!

That is *so* true!  It's a proven fact.

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#14 Annibal

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 09:29 PM

This makes me think of a satire a kid wrote for my college newspaper entitled "Straight, Not Narrow," and depicts his straightness as though it were homosexuality, like that people always ask "what if your kids end up straight when they grow up?" and "can't you choose to be different?"

I always think it's funny when people take one sexuality as the end-all-be-all and say another one is a choice. Yes, society, these people are choosing to live a life being persecuted and looked down upon by you. Not to compare homosexuality to a mental disorder, but it would be like saying someone chooses to be schizophrenic or manic depressive or have soxial anxiety or something.

But now that I'm on that track, do people still produce "cures" for homosexuality?

And aren't everyone's brains different in trends based on their genetic traits? Like mine's full of short, redheaded and pasty female cancerousness or something.
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