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Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:13 AM

Social Cognition, the Male Brain and the Autism Spectrum

Behavioral studies have shown that, at a population level, women perform better on tests of social cognition and empathy than men. Furthermore Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), which are characterized by impairments in social functioning and empathy, occur more commonly in males than females. These findings have led to the hypothesis that differences in the functioning of the social brain between males and females contribute to the greater vulnerability of males to ASD and the suggestion that ASD may represent an extreme form of the male brain. Here we sought to investigate this hypothesis by determining: (i) whether males and females differ in social brain function, and (ii) whether any sex differences in social brain function are exaggerated in individuals with ASD. Using fMRI we show that males and females differ markedly in social brain function when making social decisions from faces (compared to simple sex judgements) especially when making decisions of an affective nature, with the greatest sex differences in social brain activation being in the inferior frontal cortex (IFC). We also demonstrate that this difference is exaggerated in individuals with ASD, who show an extreme male pattern of IFC function. These results show that males and females differ significantly in social brain function and support the view that sex differences in the social brain contribute to the greater vulnerability of males to ASDs.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0049033

7 replies, 763 views

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Reply Social Cognition, the Male Brain and the Autism Spectrum (Original post)
FarCenter Feb 2013 OP
Common Sense Party Feb 2013 #1
MyshkinCommaPrince Feb 2013 #2
dawg Feb 2013 #3
leftstreet Feb 2013 #4
FarCenter Feb 2013 #5
MyshkinCommaPrince Feb 2013 #6
KamaAina Feb 2013 #7

Response to FarCenter (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 11:55 AM

1. Fine, but just tell me when my son will talk.

That's all I want.

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Response to FarCenter (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 04:38 PM

2. Interesting.

And a bit further down on the Latest Threads page, there's this discussion:

Study debunks notion that men and women are psychologically distinct

One wonders which of these will prove the more correct study.

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Response to MyshkinCommaPrince (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 04:46 PM

3. They can both be correct.

Gender differences are real, but there is also a significant degree of overlap.

For example, the average man is taller than the average woman. But that doesn't mean all men are taller than all women.

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Response to MyshkinCommaPrince (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 04:47 PM

4. LOL

No kidding

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Response to MyshkinCommaPrince (Reply #2)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 05:27 PM

5. I would go with the brain imaging, rather than the questionaires...

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Men and Women Are From Earth: Examining the Latent
Structure of Gender
Bobbi J. Carothers and Harry T. Reis

http://www.psych.rochester.edu/people/reis_harry/assets/pdf/CarothersReis_2012.pdf

While the distributions of men and women on specific dimensions may overlap considerably, that does not mean that men and women do not separate out into mostly nonoverlapping clusters in multidimensional space. This would be revealed by analysis techniques such as principle component analysis, which Carothers and Reis do not use.

On the other hand, the performance of men and women in the imaging study was not significantly different. The main result was that men had to use greater activation of parts of their brain to do the task.

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Response to FarCenter (Reply #5)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 05:33 PM

6. Generally, I would agree.

Harder science would seem most likely to be accurate. But it could come down to the methodologies and controls applied by the two studies. It seems like the selection of a sample base of participants would be a big area where either study could end up being flawed.

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Response to FarCenter (Original post)

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 05:57 PM

7. Junk science

http://thautcast.com/drupal5/content/how-autism-research-gets-sexist-and-dumb

I am not surprised that no reporter was willing to admit to having written this article about how some research comparing women, men, and men with Asperger's syndrome supposedly proves that women are better at reading emotions than men are. It's a nearly perfect example of the sexism in how autism research is reported.

Gender bias begins with the design of the experiment itself. Failing to collect data from women with Asperger's syndrome does several things that distort the actual results. It marginalizes autistic women, treating their experience as not significant enough to study and guaranteeing that our understanding of what autism is is shaped mostly by the experiences of boys and men. It also produces results that the scientists expected, and probably wanted to see: when it comes to recognizing emotions, women are faster then men, who are faster than autistic men. This seems to confirm the idea that autism is "the extreme male brain."

The headline, and the article itself, make the common error of confusing what is being measured. The experiment measured reaction time, not how hard it is for men or women to read emotions. Faster does not mean better. More areas of the brain activated does not mean harder....

But this idea that women are better at "soft" things like feelings and men are better at "hard" things like math, can also be seen as an expression of bias against women.

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