In 2009, Daphna Joel, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University, decided to teach a course on the psychology of gender. As a feminist, she had long been interested in questions of sex and gender, but as a scientist her research had been mostly on the neural underpinnings of obsessive-compulsive behavior. To prepare for the class, Joel spent a year reviewing much of the extensive and polarized literature on sex differences in the brain. The hundreds of papers covered everything from variations in the size of specific anatomical structures in rats to the possible roots of male aggression and female empathy in humans. At the outset, Joel shared a popularly held assumption: Just as sex differences nearly always produce two different reproductive systems, they would also produce two different forms of brains—one female, the other male.
My reporting and writing on science, health, learning, parenting and other subjects has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American Mind, Parents, and Redbook. Here are some selected articles ranging from my latest work to a few old favorites.
You is one of the most common words in the English language. Turns out you might be using it in ways you didn’t appreciate. Grammatically, you is a second-person pronoun used to refer to someone who is not, well, you. Psychologists who study this call it “the verbal equivalent of pointing to one’s audience.” But you is also a way of referring to people in general, as in “you win some, you lose some.” And a study just published in Science reveals that we use you in that generic way not only to express norms, but also to describe personal negative experiences. Doing so provides psychological distance and helps us find meaning in the hard things that happen to us.
Friendship may sometimes feel complicated, but it turns out that recognizing your true friends can be surprisingly simple. There are some fundamental elements that every close bond — including those with family and romantic partners — shares: To call someone a friend, the relationship must be long-lasting, it must be positive, and it must involve cooperation. That’s the three-legged stool that friendship rests on, say the evolutionary biologists I’ve been reporting on. Similar personalities or a shared sense of humor do matter, but they’re less essential than you might think. Remove a leg of that stool, though, and your “friend” may not be there for you when you need them—and being able to count on someone in a crisis, say the researchers, is the whole reason we have friends in the first place.
Dance like no one is watching—or so they say. But people often are watching. Truth be told, they’re judging your moves. A study published last week in Scientific Reports used video of a variety of dancing women to pinpoint how observers distinguish good dancers from bad. If you care about such things, there’s one big takeaway: Swing those hips. And if you guessed all this has something to do with sex, you guessed right.
Pregnancy doesn’t just leave stretch marks. It changes a woman’s brain in ways that are “pronounced and long-lasting” and that appear to help new mothers bond with their babies. Those are the striking conclusions from a study published this month in Nature Neuroscience that the authors say is the first evidence of its kind.