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Nature Vs. Nurture: A Talk On Biases

Are little girls born with a natural gift as caregivers or multitaskers? Are they not good at sports? Not good at math? Should they play with dolls? Wear pink? Act ladylike? Be more empathetic, calm, and collected? 

Are these traits part of our inherent nature as women? Or are we conditioned since childhood to believe them?


We are surrounded all our lives by gender biases and stereotypes that influence our own perceptions and expectations about gender and how women and men "should" or are "likely" to behave. The amount of biased information that we are exposed to in the media - the so-called "gender bombardment" - has also contributed to strengthening these beliefs of what it means to be male or female. 


Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist focused on debunking these ideas of a "gendered brain", said: "I think the most common myth that I've come across is that neuroscience has 'proved' that there are clear-cut differences between the brains of men and the brains of women". 


Let us look at some examples of discoveries throughout the years that have built on this idea that gender is something we inherit (which is not true, according to Gina), and what research has shown in terms of how children are raised to believe these stereotypes: 


A study revealed women's brains are about 10% smaller than men's, which led to assumptions about intellectual differences between genders. However, if we think that size determines IQ levels, then Einstein (who had a smaller-than-average brain) would not have been the genius he was. There is also a huge overlap in brain size distributions between men and women, so "you get women with big brains and men with small brains", says Rippon.

Another argument that has been made in support of inherent gender gaps is that the corpus callosum – the bridge of nerve fibers that ensure both sides of the brain can communicate and send signals to one another - is bigger in women's brains. This seemed to prove statements of women being 'illogical' since there was an interference between the "emotional" and "rational" sides of the brain. However, these assumptions are not reliable, considering the limited sample sizes and research methods used.


The truth is, a lot of what is seen as nature, can actually be a result of nurture. "A gendered world produces a gendered brain", as Gina states. Our brain is plastic, so it is molded by training, experiences, and exposure to certain realities. There is even research that shows that children as young as 24 months old are highly sensitive to stereotypical behaviors. They absorb social information quickly and comprehensively, and this can lead to a restructuring of neural circuits. So, what little girls are exposed to (or not) during childhood highly determines the interests and skills they will develop, and the path they will pursue in their adult lives.


For instance, from the age of about two, girls tend to gravitate towards the color pink, as this is more commonly associated with the female gender (a result of their understanding of their surroundings). Research has also revealed that mothers speak more to their baby girls than to baby boys, and speak more about emotions to girls as well. These conditions are impacting little girls' mindsets on what it means to be a woman and how they should behave to fit in this socially constructed mold (or feel left out if they don't).

"If we believe that there are profound and fundamental differences between men's and women's brains, and more than that – that the owners of those brains, therefore, have access to different skills, or different temperaments or different personalities – that will certainly affect how we think about ourselves as male or female" - Gina Rippon. 


This is why it is important to work together to shift this narrative around stereotypical male and female brains and provide little girls (and little boys) everywhere with all the options and opportunities they need to help them unlock their full potential. 


What about you? Do you believe the stereotypical notions around gender are a result of nature or nurture? 

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