What Kind of Sex Do We Need in Neuroimaging?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/light_seeker/2835588174

Overlap.
(”Like Dancers in a Line” by Viewminder, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Four members of the NeuroGenderings network, Gina Rippon, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser, and Cordelia Fine, recently published a fabulous piece on “Recommendations for Sex/Gender Neuroimaging Research: Key Principles and Implications for Research Design, Analysis, and Interpretation” in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dotpolka/5629260

Mosaicism.
(”mosaic” by dotpolka, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The authors (representing a mix of backgrounds in the natural and social sciences) argue that four key concepts, namely overlap, mosaicism, contingency, and entanglement, make it impossible to divide neuroimaging test subjects and their brains dichotomously in “male” and “female.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremyosborne/3431110778

Contingency.
(”Contingencies released” by jeremy_w_osborne, CC BY 2.0)

They don’t argue that “female” and “male” are, biologically speaking, the same. Rather, they review scientific scholarship pointing to the fact that “sex,” understood as either “male” or “female,” is neither “fixed, [nor] invariant, [nor] highly informative.” Furthermore, they provide concrete example for how a more sensitive approach to the differences between “sex” as manifested in the genome, in gonads, and in genitals could be carried out in research practice: they introduce feasible recommendations on sample size, data analysis, etc.

Here is the abstract:

Neuroimaging (NI) technologies are having increasing impact in the study of complex cognitive and social processes. In this emerging field of social cognitive neuroscience, a central goal should be to increase the understanding of the interaction between the neurobiology of the individual and the environment in which humans develop and function. The study of sex/gender is often a focus for NI research, and may be motivated by a desire to better understand general developmental principles, mental health problems that show female-male disparities, and gendered differences in society. In order to ensure the maximum possible contribution of NI research to these goals, we draw attention to four key principles—overlap, mosaicism, contingency and entanglement—that have emerged from sex/gender research and that should inform NI research design, analysis and interpretation. We discuss the implications of these principles in the form of constructive guidelines and suggestions for researchers, editors, reviewers and science communicators.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/verzo/12381891244

Entanglement.
(”Entanglement” by Roberto Verzo, CC BY 2.0)

The article was also featured in Londa Schiebinger‘s Gendered Innovations newsletter. Get it here, read it, spread the word, use the ideas in your own research if applicable, and make the world a better place.


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