Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias
>> OPERATOR: Good day, and welcome to today's Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity, 2019 Webinar Series titled, Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Questions can be submitted anytime via the Q&A part located in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Please note this call may be recorded. It is now my pleasure to turn the call over to Ishmael Amarreh; please go ahead.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Great. Thank you. Good morning everyone, good afternoon, and good evening. I'm Ishmael Amarreh of the National Institute of Mental Health. I would like to welcome you to today's webinar on Insights from Social Psychology and Neuroscience on Bias. This is the second of two webinars in our NIMH 2019 Webinar Series for the Office for Research on Disparities and Workforce. The first webinar held last month was on the influence of exercise on brain development, and the differential effect that this has on girls versus boys.
We archive all of these webinars so that you can read them later. You'll see the webpage on the screen at the end of the webinar today. Before we start, just a couple of logistical things. We will take questions online. So, We ask you to use the Q&A box on your screen any time during the presentation. I will compile these questions, and Dr. Rippon, our speaker, will answer these questions at the end of the presentation.
Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our speaker of today, Dr. Gina Rippon. Dr. Rippon is an international expert on brain-imaging techniques. She is the Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston Brain Center, at Aston University in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Dr. Rippon is a leader in neuroimaging field, particularly EEG and MEG. She uses these techniques and cognitive neuroscience paradigms to investigate developmental disorders such as autism.
When she's not in the lab, she's out in the world debunking the sex different myths, the idea that there is such thing as male or female brain. She recently published a book on this topic, titled Gender Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of Female Brain. She's going to speak to us today about her insights from social psychology and neuroscience on bias.
Dr. Rippon, welcome and thank you for presenting this webinar.
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Thank you very much, Ish. Thank you for the introduction. Hello, everybody? I gather you're in all sorts of different parts of the world. As I said, good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. As Ish mentioned also, I've got a wide-ranging interest in the way in which different brains get to be different, and whether or not there are such types of brains as a male brain and a female brain. The book that I've just written is called The Gendered Brain in the UK, and for some reason, Gender and Our Brains in the US.
It’s really wide-ranging, but a key theme is how messages in the outside world may change your brain and may change the behavior associated with it. And Whether or not that some kind of explanation for the kind of gender gaps that I'm interested in looking at. A key interest of mine is the underrepresentation of women in science. Why it is that there are so few women in science, big gender gaps across the world, and whether understanding some of the neuroscience and some of the social psychology behind aspects of behavior may explain this. That's what today's seminar is going to be about.
Just briefly, to show you the kind of changes that I'm interested in, is looking at some of the gender gaps and– Just quickly getting my slide changing here. It doesn't seem to be changing. [laughs] Just moving on to my second slide. It isn't moving. I don't know if somebody is listening into this, but–
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Gina, I can see your slides moving.
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay. They are coming through very slowly on my computer. I'm just going to go back now. That's better. Okay, apologies, everybody.
The kind of gender gaps I'm interested in is one of the slides I'm showing here, is some data from the World Economic Forum looking at global gender gap differences and pointing out that economic and political empowerment gaps that very slow to change. The interest that I have, in particular, as I mentioned, is the fact that if we look at the world of science, it's a world of gender gaps. These are some UK data, looking at the participation in different science subjects of 18-year-old students in their last year at school, and showing that there's huge gender gaps. If you look at the right-hand end of the graph, you can see that very few girls do computing or physics or mathematical subjects.
This then translates into the fact that there are people who do computer A level or go into the core science, technology, engineering, and medicine subjects. Few of those are associated with girls, and also in engineering and technology, very small percentage of girls participate. This is a great loss to science, because we need lots of woman too. If a large number of the population are not engaging, we need to look at that. It's also a loss to the people who don't engage, because becoming part of the scientific community is both economically and intellectually very important. It's difficult to understand why not everybody is trying to do science.
What I'm going to try and do today is actually look at the neuroscience explanation initially, behind any gender gaps, whatever they are. It could be gender gaps in science, it could be a gender gap in achievement. The slide I'm showing here is actually just a depiction of what I call a very simple chain of arguments. The fact that whatever it is that determines anatomical differences between males and females, in addition, on the left-hand side, also determines the fact that they have different kinds of brains. What we now know is the genotype, because this is a very old argument. What we now know is the genotype will determine that you have a female brain. And If you have a female brain, and there's all sorts of psychological characteristics go with that, for example, you expect to be very empathic, but not very good at reading maps. That will then lead to a particular role in society.
Whereas if you have a male body, that means you also have a male brain. That male brain will bring with it characteristics of being very good at spatial cognition, the map reading argument, but you're not very good at listening or understanding emotions. That again, will determine particular roles in society.
This argument has been around for a very long time. The way in which you can detect it is that this is a biologically determined pathway, you have a male brain at birth, which arrived with particular kinds of skills. As that male brain grows, the owner of that brain goes through life, gets educated, requires different skills, and they're very important skills. They may well determine, for example, that they become great scientists and win Nobel prizes, et cetera.
Whereas a female version, it doesn't come equipped with such useful skills. Certainly, in the 19th century, it was believed that female brains shouldn't be exposed to dangerous things like education, because it would affect their reproductive capacity. Effectively, this brain becomes different. The skills it brings with it means that you're perhaps emotionally labor, but very good at understanding emotion, good at caring, good at in quotes, being a womanly companion to men, for example. I've depicted it here, and obviously caricaturing it, but the idea is that there's two types of brain, a female brain and the male brain. Those brains have different skills, different capacities, which will determine different involvement in science or any particular field that you might be interested in.
Now, one of the reasons that I'm interested in this particular topic, is the idea that once the world recognizes that, with respect to the cognitive skills which are necessary for involvement in science, then we should start to see that you don't treat women differently from men because of the cognitive skills they have. They have the performance capacity, then we should start to see these gender gaps in science disappearing. One of the issues that's emerged recently is what's called the gender equality paradox. That's if you look at gap countries where the gender gaps are relatively small, think Scandinavian countries, paradoxically, the representation of women and the underrepresentation of women in science is greater.
There is a kind of underlying currents that perhaps essentially this argument is got something to say it's nothing to do with science same with the world saying you can't do science. It's saying that when all of those different society pressures are removed, women are still choosing not to do science, and perhaps they choose to do because they have personal strengths in different areas, and very often, the choice of arts and humanities is quoted.
We have this paradox where, and this is a quotation from the authors, the differences emerge from a seemingly irrational choice to pursue academic paths that are our personal strength. There is a feeling that we are looking at females who have a female brain, who have different strengths and make different choices.
Now, one of the lines I was challenging in my book was actually looking at the chain of argument that leads to these statements. What I'll be doing for the rest of the seminar is really examining what it is, what claims there are that women are underrepresented in science for a range of reasons. I think there's two particular arguments that I'm going to go through.
First of all, that women are unsuitable for STEM, and this is rather the, essentially the argument, that they have "The wrong sort of brain', or they have the wrong sort of skill set, because their skill set brains brought with them, perhaps they have the wrong temperament or personality, maybe the kind of personality that's determined how they behave in the world is not suitable for science, or they have their own preferences. They actually choose, for example, an example is often given where they prefer to work with people rather than things. I would say that it might give one pause for thought to think that science is characterized as just being interested in working with things as something to do with working with people. That's, I think, it's an essentialist argument that women don't do science because they can't do science.
My argument is very much is that we also need to look at the world in which these brains are functioning, male or female, and say, how suitable, how welcoming is science to certain types of people such as women. If science is viewed as a male domain, that fantasy mainly expected to be men, and there's expectations of a certain innate brilliance which is associated with males, then it may well be that that's why females and their brains don't fit into science.
Or you can look at what I call science chilly climate, the fact that there's evidence of gender bias, that there's different explanations for when women do succeed in science, or women working in science get acknowledged in different ways. This seminar will really be working through these characteristics and say, how does science back up with respect to answering these questions?
First of all, let's have a look at the idea that maybe women have the wrong brain. Maybe they're all male brains and female brains, and male brains are better suited for science. On the left-hand side, there's just a couple of examples of the many, many thousands of neuroscience papers which have been produced since neural imaging really entered the mainstream science in the 1990s. This hunt for the difference between males and females, which really started 200 years ago, continued, but using these new kinds of techniques. If you had a quick glance at the number of papers published, which report sex differences, you think there's thousands of them.
Isn't it amazing how neuroscience has really proved that males brains are different from female brains? If you look more carefully at the body of evidence, you'll see that one study will report one of the papers I'm showing here a sex difference in adult human brains gathering information from over 5,000 participants, and in this case, they will report a difference in the Amygdala and the Hippocampus. There is lots of structures in the brain. Whereas in other papers, other papers will say, yes, we found amazing sex differences, but they're in different parts of the brain.
We have to acknowledge that after 30 more years, we still haven't come up with any consistent description which would allow anybody looking at a brain, looking at an image of a brain to say, “oh, that's a male brain, and that's a female brain.” A very basic concept that there are different kinds of brains associated with being male or female is something that we need to challenge, we need to say there really isn't any consistent evidence that male brains are different from female brains. The other thing to realize is that if we're looking at a body of literature, the way in which what we call publication bias works, is that if you have a hypothesis, that there is a difference and you find a difference wherever it is, that's much more likely to be published than if you don't actually find a difference. Your hypothesis isn't proved.
Or you may find that this is a very long paper and lots and lots of similarities or lack of differences have been reported. That's not what's emphasized.
On the right-hand side of the slide, I'm just giving an indication that sometimes scientists themselves are not that reliable or perhaps are rather cautious in emphasizing their findings. This was a paper which had a big impact five or six years ago reporting differences in wiring the patterns of connections between male and female brains. Very popular and reported in Science and popular journals widely. The suggestion was that male brains were connected anterior to posterior, whereas female brains were much more likely to have connections between the right and the left hemispheres. This fitted in nicely with existing metaphors. The popular press got very excited, and there was lots of headlines, lots of the truth. Now we know why men and women are different.
What the scientists themselves, and certainly also the communicators of this work, didn't emphasize, was that the data we were looking at were hugely overlapping. This is true of all sex differences research. This is something we nearly really need to remember, is that when we talk about differences, we're not talking about distinctions, that a male brain is like this and a female brain is like that. We're looking at data where there's a huge amount of variability within each group, but if you put the two sets of data together on the relevant axes, you'll see there's a huge overlap. The differences between those two groups are very tiny. Actually, knowing whether you've got a male or a female and how they will perform on a science task, or what particular structure in the brain you might be interested in, these are very tiny differences. We're talking about group averages. Even at the group level, these are very tiny. I think that's very important in trying to understand any discussion about sex differences. In particular, when we're talking about sex differences in the involvement in science.
Moving on, the suggestion is perhaps we should be looking at the characteristics that are associated with having a particular brain. A book by Simon Baron Cohen, a very eminent neuroscientist in the UK who also like myself works in the author's world of autism, has written a book for popular consumption which is again an amalgam of lots of research about sex differences. Starts the book, the female brain is predominantly hardwired. That's quite important because it suggests you can't change it for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hardwired for understanding and building systems.
There's a clear message that if you have the kind of brain that is a systemizing brain, what he calls the systemizing brain, then it's much more likely that you will be at ease and successful in a scientific environment. Later on, in the book, he does actually say, your sex doesn't dictate your brain type. Not all men have a male brain, and not all women have a female brain. I think that's another important message that the language used in the area sometimes is misleading. Because you think, why do we call it a male brain if you don't have to be a man to have that kind of brain? Really what this individual is talking about is the difference between certain skill sets being empathizing or systemizing. Research from that lab has actually later found that a cognitive style, which is whether or not you'd score high on tests of empathy, or you score high on tests of systemizing.
That style is a good predictor of entry into physical sciences and humanities. This is a survey done on applicants. It's actually independent of sex differences. Again, that's an important message. That sometimes what looks like a sex difference is actually some kind of cognitive difference. We need to make sure that people understand that's the difference that we're talking about.
Again, not the wrong brain, the wrong skill set. Maybe it's the case that, as was early suggested, women weren't very good at the hard skills which were necessary for science. A lot of this was supported by what I call that experimental psychologies go to degenerating or go to list for researchers and for people interested in this area to say these are reliable differences between the various skills, temperaments and personalities of males and females. Again, the impression, when you looked at the data, was there was a good story here. There were clear differences, and that was what was taught to psychology students et cetera, including people like myself.
Now that researchers are going back and looking much more carefully at the findings and really saying, how often were these findings reliably replicated? How big was the effect size? What they're actually finding is that what we've always believed were profound differences between males and females in terms of males being better at mathematical skills and spatial cognition, actually, this is not a finding that has been supported. There's been a couple of great studies really summarizing all the research in this area, one by Janet Hyde talking about gender similarities and differences. Another study by a group headed by Ethan Zell who looked at all data evaluating where they found gender similarities, as well as differences, using very complicated analytical techniques. Actually, they say that all the differences we believed in have either disappeared over time, or actually, if you look at the data, never really existed in the first place. We really should be talking about gender similarities. Males and females are much more similar in the skills they have than they are different. That's again, important to remember when people start using arguments about why women don't do science.
The other thing is, if we have a belief that the brain is fixed, the essentialist pathway, I showed at the beginning, is some invariable unfolding of a biological template, and that template determines particular skills. We could say, why we're fixed on particular trajectories, our brains, whether or not we think it will be useful for more women to do science, their brains are on a different biological trajectory. One of the things we discovered in the last 30 years, is that our brains are so-called plastic so much longer, really throughout our lives, and we have realized we knew baby brains were developmentally very plastic, pathways were being formed, dependent on the experiences they had. They were still fairly fixed in the skills that were required.
The understanding was that you reached the developmental endpoint fairly early in your life, and after that, your brain was pretty much fixed, and those brains broke within the skills that you had. We now know that the brain is very, very responsive throughout our lives to different experiences. Some of the examples I've given here are of neuroscientists looking at people learning particular skills, showing how the brain changes, and also showing how the behavior associated with those brains change.
I've got pictures of taxi drivers' brains, of Black Cab drivers in London go to a really complicated visual-spatial memory training, which goes on for three or four years, sometimes it takes as long as six, which means they are brilliant at navigating their way around London. Have you come to London and leap in a cab, a Black Cab driver will be able to unerringly take you to wherever you want to go in the shortest possible time? People are looking at taxi drivers' brains have shown how particular parts of the brain associated with this task change, become enlarged as these skills are acquired. Interestingly, once taxi drivers retire, then those changes disappear. There are no differences between them and controls.
The other examples shown here is just really the skills learning to juggle which is quite a complicated motor hand-eye coordination task, or learning to play Tetris, which is quite a complicated spatial cognition task. All of these you can show that you can change the brain if you give people the right training opportunities. That's quite important to hang on to. Because it means that if you haven't got the skills for whatever reason, when you enter a particular profession, or when you wish to enter a profession, you can still acquire them, and your brain will change appropriately. It's not as though if we don't have a skill, it's because our brain doesn't allow us to have it and can't be changed.
I think this is a nice example, where something that looks like a sex difference and that has long been claimed as a sex difference, and sex difference which is relevant to involvement in science, when you look more closely, you realize that this has changed quite dramatically. Not as a function of the sex of the brain’s owner, but the training opportunities that the brains’ owners had. This task here is called a mental rotation task. It's a good measure, claim to be a very good measure of spatial cognition. You've got two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. You have to mentally rotate that object to see if the two figures you're looking at are the same, except one is just being rotated through, say, 90 degrees. It's actually for anybody like me who actually does struggle with this task. It's quite complicated and quite hard work. It's shown over the years to claim to be a robust sex difference. Males, on average, important to remember that, perform better.
If you then look at the training opportunities that some parts of our population have, you realize that this may actually be a function of the differences you see, and there was a big study carried out two years ago.
It looked at spatial cognition skills in large numbers of males and females, found a sex difference overlapping, and on average, but it was a clear sex difference. Then they thought, "Well, we'll have a look at visual and spatial experience. We'll ask people if they played with construction toys when they were children, if they play video games now. What kind of video games? If they have a hobby which gives them some kind of spatial hand-eye coordination training, for example." They found that once you got a measure of spatial experience, the sex difference disappeared. What looked like a male-female difference was actually to do with spatial training experience.
If you look, for example, at the kind of toys that children are exposed to, this is, I think, very telling. If you look at Lego, if you look at the kinds of models which are associated with Lego, or the kind of video game, Super Mario is a very good example, you'll find that experience with these kinds of toys and games is a very reliable predictor of how well you're going to perform in a special task. Do I think there's some kind of asymmetry in the world with respect to these training opportunities? The answer obviously, is yes. If you look at the kind of Lego that girls are given, much less complicated, some of the bigger bits because of course, girls will find these sorts of things hard. What they can build is things like a hairdressing salon or a poodle parlor, for example.
My favorite and with tremendous relevance to this particular seminar is STEM Barbie. Mattel, realizing that it was under-representation of women in science, decided to solve this problem by producing a Barbie doll, engineer Barbie, who you will see here. She is wearing a very short lab coat and even shorter miniskirt underneath. It does have DNA on the skirt to show she's sciencey. In terms of the kind of gender stereotypes that are inadvertently at one hopes in forming this, are Barbie engineer can build a pink washing machine, or a pink jewelry carousel, or a pink table for cutting out dress patterns.
I think you don't have to look very far in the outside world to see that training opportunities are different for boys and girls, right from the toys they play with to the expectations of the kinds of things that they want to get involved in. Again, it's something that's important to remember, something that looks like a sex difference may well be playing out the world's gender stereotypes.
Finally, this sort of essential argument, looking at the idea that males and females have different preferences. Women prefer working with people, and that's why they don't go into science, whereas men prefer working with things, and that's why they're very good at science. This is quite an interesting example here of the metric we use to make these kinds of claims. The questionnaire that is the basis of these claims, is actually for me, a flawed questionnaire, and it's something which is very often quoted in explaining why women don't do science. This people versus things task was devised way back in the 1980s. Looking at occupational choice and trying to determine this was really developed for career advisors and saying, "Let's have a look at the kinds of things that people like doing and we'll fit them into the right occupation." What they said was that the tasks which were THING type tasks, they measured things, interest in people like bricklayers and laboratory technicians and bus drivers, and found they mainly worked mainly with things, and whereas people who were interested in working with people, they looked at the interest of elementary school teachers and social workers and vocational counselors.
The trouble is that the time in which they were looking, these were already gendered occupations. The little image I'm showing here, is that only 2.4% of bricklayers were women. Also, looking at elementary school teachers, for example, 82% of them at that time were female. You've got a task, which is already gendered, the choices that they've made is determined, and in some cases, these are legal issues. These were perhaps union issues, that women weren't allowed to join a union, which meant you couldn’t be a construction worker. What you're seeing here is playing out of a social difference between males and females. The task itself is already gendered. When people say, "Isn't it amazing, we give males and females this particular questionnaire, and females always come up strongly on preferring people and men preferring things. Actually, I think it's a flawed metric. It's actually already gendered, and that's why we find the difference that we claim to be due to particular kinds of preferences.
Again, moving on, we need to say that, "Okay, we don't seem to have an explanation, essential explanation from research as to why women don't do science." Let's move on quickly to see whether or not science is a suitable place for women, a welcoming place for women. At this point, we need to slightly step aside from the general argument, and I'll give you some of the background, which is really fundamental aspect of my book. That is reminding us that our brains are not just wired to be amazingly skilled cognitive operators.
Our brains are also wired to make us social, and the diagram I'm showing here is a complicated anatomical diagram, a cross-section of the brain, but the key issues to notice is that if you look at the prefrontal cortex evolution, really younger parts of the brain, we've always assumed that it was the evolution of this increase in size which made us very good at sciency-type things, being creative, solving problems, as well as developing language and being able to organize our worlds in a particular way, become the executive function within the brain.
We now know that it's also equally important for the fact that human beings are very social beings. We solve problems collaboratively, we generally work collaboratively, we have big social networks, and the success of the human race has been linked very closely to the social part of the brain. Being social is as much a brain process as the kind of cognitive skills we have. This is linked to the same kind of functions that we've always had, even earlier evolutionary functions.
Parts of the brain associated with emotion still give us positive or negative feedback depending on the outcome of our behavior. This could be social behavior; if you feel good about belonging to a group, you want to belong to a particular in-group. You want to understand the rules of that group, the social context, the social scripts associated with that group. Your behavior when you belong to the group and is accepted by the group will be rewarded.
There's a part of the brain here, which I characterize a bit like a traffic light system. It's a bridge between the new part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and the old parts of the brain which drive our behavior by emotional responses. This is like a traffic light system, particularly in the stop behavior, which results in negative feedback.
We have a system within the brain, which I call an inner limiter, a bit like an intake mechanistic calm metaphor, which will drive us away from behavior which doesn't give us positive feedback.
If you're looking at social behavior, you can see that there is a very powerful social driver in the world. Looking at the next slide, these are evidence of brain changes which are associated with social experiences, negative social experiences, and some of this work is from my lab. We can have a look at the experience of being socially rejected. This is actually a very powerful effect which we can show in a scanner.
You can give somebody a really simple cartoon type involvement in a game, and you can be part of that game but gradually, the other players start to exclude you. Even though you know it's a video game, I've played this game myself, you think, "I know this is a video game, but I'm a bit messed that people aren't passing the ball to me," et cetera. We can see that as your social esteem drops or you find yourself getting more and more annoyed, particular parts of the brain will change.
Similarly, if you have experienced a drop in self-esteem through some kind of rating system or you're asked to rank where you are in your own particular environment, in your group, in your employment, et cetera, or if you're very critical, you make a mistake and you blame yourself for it, all of these are social activities, all of these associated with activity in our inner limiter.
They are very powerful. What is interesting in terms of the driving effects of being belonging or not belonging is that the areas of the brain which are activated by these negative social experiences such as social rejection are the same areas of the brain which are activated by real pain. Being rejected from your social group or not being accepted by a social group is a very powerful driver within the brain.
Associated with that is certain changes in behavior, which is interesting to understand in terms of why some individuals withdraw from situations where you know cognitively they're completely competent, but if they have a poor self-image or they're very sensitive to being rejected and not feeling welcome, they have high levels of self-criticism and they may what we call a self-silence, they withdraw and say, "I don't think I want to engage with what's going on." They may leave.
This is played out in in all sorts of fora but also, interestingly, in science in terms of when women decide that science is not for them, either they are involved in science and leave, or they look at science and think, "I don't particularly want to be involved here." It's key to understand that our brain, the world is a brain influencer, and this is something that we've really found out in the last 30 years, that we shouldn't just be looking at cognitive skills and particular structures in the brain, we also need to understand how the brain is very, very sensitive to what's going on in the world around it.
Examples of this is the fact that you can give somebody exactly the same task, but if you give a negative context, you say this is the task. An example I'm giving here is of another spatial task, if you say to three groups of women in this particular study involved, if you say to one group, "This is a task that women are very good at, but I just want to see what happens when you try and solve the problem," or you give another group what we call a positive message, "This is a perspective taking task," if you like, "which women are very good at. We'd like to see how your brain changes as a function of that."
What you'll see is that the behavior, you get many fewer errors when you got a positive message, and you got more errors when you get a negative message. Also, the brain activity reflects that. If you get a positive message, the appropriate areas of the brain are activated, and you solve the problem efficiently. If you're given a negative message, you may struggle to solve the problem, and there's much more activity, again, in our inner limiter error evaluate system.
Exactly the same task but the brain responds differently depending on the attitude. Again, I think that's something, it's important to hang onto in understanding what's going on in the under-involvement of women in science. What I'm showing in the next few slides is just some other examples of the same issue, and I've given references on the slide so that people could follow this up. If you look at people who have math anxiety, for example, and then you divide them into groups, one group is told, "We'll be comparing your score to other students for the purpose of studying gender differences in math, or with a neutral group, we want to examine psychological processes associated with efforts or problem-solving."
You'll find the brain activity associated with making mistakes is very different in the group who have a negative message. You also find behaviorally in this particular task that help is offered to people who are making mistakes, the people who are given a negative context of the task cannot take that help and tend to self-limit their behavior and withdraw from the task because that's also an option they're given.
We have very good evidence that our brains will respond differently to the social context that they find themselves in. This is another example here, where the example is this task is diagnostic as the type of problem-solving strategies you prefer or the other message, "This task is diagnostic of your mass ability." Again, same tasks that we get different responses from the brain.
We can also see how early this starts. I was involved in a television program in the UK which was called No More Boys and Girls and actually looking at the effect of gender stereotyping in the classroom. The fact that there was lots of gender stereotyping, quite unconscious, the teacher called the girls sweet pea and the boys mates, chose boys much more often than girls to carry out particular tasks and girls weren't asked to answer the questions.
This is all unconscious, but they did find that once people's attention was drawn to this and that involved the children as well, just a six-week experiment, they took every opportunity to remove gender stereotyping, and the boys' and the girls' behavior changed quite dramatically, a big increase in self-esteem, which was low in seven-year-old girls and also a greater indication of boys using emotional language much more effectively and enjoying.
They had a mixed football team and enjoying not just being boys playing football but enjoying playing football with a mixed team. We know, in education, that teachers tend to overmark boys and undermark girls in particular issues, particularly science, and if you generate this as a bias score, you can follow it up longitudinally and show this, in fact, this has quite a profound effect on how people will actually- the choices they will make intensive of high school subjects.
We have six-year-old girls who if you give them a choice between toys or games for really, really clever people or games for people who work hard, the girls will be much more likely to choose the games for people who work hard, and when they're asked a reason for their choice, they say, "It's because girls aren't really, really clever, and I'm a girl so I wouldn't like that toy," which I think is a rather sad reflection on the effect of gender stereotypes.
Similarly, nine-year-old girls, you'll find that they have a very powerful belief that math is a boy thing and that they probably won't do math when they grow up or they'll do as little math as they can because they're not boys and therefore they're not really good at math and math is the kind of thing that boys do. Again, we have an indication that these all start fairly early on, being aware that I should move on here.
What we then need to look at is whether or not there's a belief in science about who can do science. There's a bit of a rogue's gallery here, on the left, we have a picture of Charles Darwin, who 200 years ago, a great scientist that he was, had a very powerful belief that women were actually inferior. You think, "Okay, that's 200 years ago." The other pictures are a bit of rogue's gallery of men quoting the fact that women shouldn't be encouraged to go into science or the fact that there weren't high achievers in science was possibly to do with a lack of aptitude at the high end.
To quote Larry Summers and the Google Memo writer saying that Google was wasting its time with diversity initiative because, biologically, women had different preferences and abilities which weren't really suited for what Google was looking for. Similarly, a physicist intern standing up and saying physics was wasting their time educating girls in physics because actually, biologically, they had a different interest and wouldn't make good physicists.
He did kindly make an exception of Marie Curie, who has two Nobel prizes, but she was, of course, unexceptional. We're getting a feeling, hopefully, that we need to understand that science has a particular view of women. There was a great study done. Again, I've given the reference here, by Sarah Jane Leslie and her team looking at all sorts of different academic disciplines and asking both males and females within those disciplines what they felt were necessary characteristics to be high achievers in their particular discipline.
She called it Expectations of Brilliance. She generated a score which showed that there was a very powerful belief in some disciplines that there was some innate characteristic, some innate ability that people were born with which meant they were likely to be high achievers. When she correlated that score with the size of underrepresentation of women in science and this, in fact, is a measure of the number of females doing PhDs, she showed that the disciplines just focusing on the left-hand side, in this case, in science, the disciplines which had the most powerful belief that being brilliant was something you were born with we're also the disciplines which had the biggest gender gaps.
Again, if you're in an environment which doesn't believe that you are going to be a great success, this is a pretty negative information. Similarly, there's many social psychology studies I've given references here which show that there's a underlying bias that if you're given exactly the same CV and you're, as an academic male or female, supposed to be rating these CVs in terms of who you'd like to employ to work in your lab, what kind of starting salary they might have, what kind of training opportunities you would give them, how well you think they would succeed, identical CVs, one, the name was John and the other one, the name was Jennifer.
It was clearly indicated that there was a bias, and Jennifer was offered a much lower starting salary, much less likely to succeed, not given many training opportunities but, interestingly, rated highly on likeability. They liked Jennifer, but they didn't actually think that she was going to be very successful. Similarly, writing letters of reference, there's a clear gender bias in raving about the genius, the insightful logical problem-solving of male applicants and the neat handwriting and well-turned-outness of female applicants.
Within the environment of science, there's very clear evidence of differences between males and females. Just finally, moving on, is to say that there's also the idea that if women get into science and they achieve well, then that's due to different reasons. This is nice dichotomy between the lightbulb achievement where if a male achieves, it's because they're a genius. They've had this amazing insight and will solve a problem in a flash that's been worrying science for centuries, possibly, whereas if women do very well, it's because they worked very hard, they've got a good team, they'd been plugging away at the problem for ages.
The images here just to illustrate this as a nice dichotomy between Hedy Lamar who was a very famous film star in her time but also an amazing inventor, and she worked together with a male, Mr. George Antheil, a radio specialist trying to solve the problem of enemy aircraft and enemy shipping intercepting messages in the Second World War, and they came up with this radio frequency hopping solution which meant that you could send a message, but if you kept changing the frequency, it couldn't be tracked by the enemy.
Both of those were equally involved in producing this amazing solution, but Hedy Lamar’s contribution is frequently rated as of working really, really hard with a great team, whereas George Antheil's contribution is very often described as an amazing flash of genius. Even if women get into science and are successful, there are different explanations given. We are moving onto the end here to say, remember what we're talking about, we're talking about the gender-equality paradox.
Why it is that women who are apparently, if you look at their performance scores, equally capable, and society in terms of measures of gender gap appear to be offering them every opportunity, why it is that they don't choose to go into science? I think if we look at some of the newer science evidence, the inner limiter that I've talked about, the way in which if you don't really belong in a group or if you feel that a group is likely to reject you and what I call the kind of, if women are believed to be inferior or incompetent or even invisible, then this is a powerful brain-changing effect.
It will drive behavior in a particular direction. I think that's really important that we need to remember that we should be looking at science itself as well as the individuals to try and explain why people don't get involved. Looking at the explanations I've come with, I don't think that women are in any way unsuitable for science, I appreciate that I'm quite perfectly biased, but I think there's a lot of evidence to support the idea that this essentialist argument needs to be dismissed.
I think there is strong evidence that women don't enter science because science is a no-go area for women, and this is something that we need to acknowledge to say this is a brain-changing effect. We are looking into a biological process, but it is not actually something which is fixed and inevitable, it's something we could do something about. I've just put some papers here which I think are really interesting for people interested in this area to say there are unasked questions in answering this issue.
Is it to do with self-confidence, are there gender gaps in confidence which might explain gender gaps in wages? Is it the case that if you look at women who are withdrawing from science, could it be not to do with their incompetence but actually to do with they’re quite sensitive to being rejected from social groups? If they are in a group such as science, which doesn't seem to be welcoming, this is something we should look at.
The idea of what is caught here is threatening academic environments predicts how high women's self-esteem and their engagement in science might be, so if you look at the environments, you can see a lot of the explanations here. It's to say that at the end of the day when we're looking at explanations for this underrepresentation of women, we need to move on from this essentialist argument which was talking about the male and the female brain and suggesting, actually, these brains are differently organized, have different skills, and they will succeed in different fora, and that's where we should stop.
To say, actually, where did these differences come from, let's have a look at the world, let's have a look at the gender explanations in the world. My take-home message for you, if you like, is brains will reflect the lives they've lived, so if you haven't had the right kind of training experiences, then maybe your brain appears not to have the kind of necessary skills, but that's something we can challenge.
Finally, a gendered world produces a gendered brain, and that may underpin a lot of the underrepresentation that we're looking at. I'm going to stop there, and I think Ish is going to forward to me some of the questions that you've asked. I understand also that you have access to emails, so if there's other questions you'd like to ask, I'm happy to take them. Over to you, Ish.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you very much, Gina, thank you for an insightful presentation. We don't have too many questions, so it seems maybe you have answered all the questions that people have. If you still have questions, we still have another 10 minutes for Dr. Rippon to answer your questions. The first question that came through the Q&A is something that's on everybody's minds and it's, how do we start to make change in the environment to minimize this bias, and are there strategies that you can think of to tackle this in a social context that we can use, either from institutions like NIMH, where we are the funders, or even universities or other places in society?
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay, I think that's a great question, and what isn't great about it is that there is something we can do about it. Sometimes, it's just knowledge, it's making the policy deciders, if you like, in an institution or the management, depending on what you're looking at, aware of the unconscious bias and actually, where is the power of this bias to change the behavior in their workforce.
It's not just the kind of being PC and we're chasing gender equality or something we should be doing. Of course, it is something we should be doing but this is why. I think demonstrating that we are looking at a brain-changing process, actually, seems to have quite a powerful effect. One of the areas I've been involved in the European Union, well, we still belong to it, with the idea that funding was only given to mainstream science if they could also demonstrate that they were trying to encourage diversity.
Now, my focus, obviously, has been on gender gaps. The basic principle of how social our brains are and how we like to belong can apply to any minority, therefore, understanding that diversity or looking at people underrepresented is a brain-changing process. If you go to mainstream science and say, I've given talks to string theorists and particle physicists, et cetera, and saying, actually, your science will be much more creative, your teams would be much more productive if they were more diverse, but there may be problems for encouraging people to join your teams because of this sort of issues.
If you address the issues and make sure that you are aware of role models and how people like to work in teams, et cetera, make these available, then you will become more diverse. What they've done in Europe is actually, use, obviously, finance as a driving force. Yes, we will give you money for your mainstream science project, but you also need to demonstrate that you're attacking any diversity issues that you have.
I assume that the unity NIMH running these kind of a diversity seminars are also making both the individuals themselves because a lot of this is self-fulfilling prophecies. As I said, if you've got nine-year-old girls thinking they can't do math because they're a girl, you then, of course, get a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making sure that people are aware of their own power and to change their involvement as well as the environment itself, I think that's very helpful.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. I think you answered this question, but the other side of this coin is the individual and some of the questions that have been asked is, how do you as an individual try to overcome the negative aspects of this if you could say something about that?
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Okay. Yes, I think the concept of resilience is something which is popular in social psychology and in clinical psychology as well. Again, sometimes it's just making individuals aware that they will confront unwelcoming situations. Looking at the difference, at the brain level, between self-criticism and self-reassurance is very interesting because if you can train people to say, "Look, mistakes will happen," or you may feel you're not very welcome in a group, it may be that you need techniques of self-reassurance.
You need to take a step back. "Is this something to do with me?" Don't listen too hard to your inner critic but just to say, "I'm working in an environment which is not very welcoming." If you're an activist sort of person, you may say, "Well, we need to change this, we need to have a diversity group," or to look at the environment, even if it's the physical environment, what kind of role models are, what kind of pictures are there on the wall, which sounds very trivial, but it's been demonstrated at a behavioral level that this is quite powerful.
I think individuals can make a difference both to themselves being aware that this is what they are going to encounter or maybe even are encountering. Similarly, empowering individuals so they can reflect on times when they were successful has been demonstrated to be very effective in overcoming stereotype threat.
For example, girls who suffer from math anxiety if rather than plugging them into many, many more training sessions in math, if you actually say, "You need to think more of yourself, you need to boost your self-esteem," it's been found that once somebody has a boost in self-esteem, then it doesn't have to come from math, that this can actually change their performance, and they start to succeed.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. We're getting more questions, I think. I guess maybe your answers are eliciting more questions. One thing that I wanted to say is if we don't have time to answer some of these questions, Dr. Rippon has volunteered for me to send her some of these questions, and she could provide answers through email. One question that came up from a couple of people is they wanted to know if there are studies out there that show this bias in parents themselves before people go into science or even education systems.
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Yes, indeed. Certainly, developmentally, a strong belief in what we call gender essentialism, the kind of mantras "let boys be boys, let girls be girls" is a powerful predictor of how stereotypically gendered children are. Interestingly, again, math anxiety is something I'm interested in, the role of the mother if the mother tends to be very math-anxious, that's been demonstrated to be strongly correlative with girls being math-anxious, so it's a kind of role-model issue.
Parents have a very strong role, and that could be right back to this idea of training opportunities of is it boys that play with Lego and girls that play with dolls and dress up as princesses, et cetera. Parents do have a role to play. I've just mentioned an active role, obviously, they have a very positive role. Children are quite hard, it's quite strange. Sometimes parents will do their best to present a positive role model.
I have a friend who's a female neurosurgeon and her three-year-old son believes that only boys can be doctors. You can present role models very powerfully but there's all sorts of other messages that children are getting from media, social media, in particular, video games, toys that their families give, what's happening in nursery, et cetera. Children are very powerful gender-detective, so it is quite hard, I speak as a parent as well. I know it's quite hard to make a difference, but parents can. I think that that's important, to realize that talking about people not choosing not to do something because they're a girl or a boy is a good thing to avoid.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you. We have one more minute before we end this. There are a couple of people who are asking if this webinar will be available. Yes, it will be available with the transcript. If you have any questions that you still want us to answer after you digest the material, please feel free to either send it to me or Dr. Rippon herself. You should be able to find our emails at the– There you go. This is our contact, so please email us if you have any questions, and we will have this presentation as soon as we do the transcript. Go ahead.
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: I'm sorry. I'll say I would cheekily add that hopefully, quite a lot of the answers are available in my book that's called Gender and Our Brains, by the way.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Yes. If you google Dr. Rippon, her book will come up in the search, and it's a great book. I recommend anyone who has a chance to read it. There are a lot of more information, more experiments there, and studies that I have done on this, both in the neural imaging world and also in the psychology world. Please go and if you would like to read more on this, read Dr. Rippon's book.
I think we are at the hour, if there is nothing else, Dr. Rippon, that you want to add, I think we'll call it an end of this webinar. Again, please email us any other questions that we were not able to get to, and I will forward it to Dr. Rippon, and hopefully, she will be able to answer your questions. Thank you again all.
>> DR. GINA RIPPON: Thank you very much everybody for listening.
>> ISHMAEL AMARREH: Thank you very much and thank you for everyone who joined and participated in this webinar.