Review: Ingalhalikar et al. 2014

As part of the requirements for one of the psychology classes I’m taking in the context of the SCAN certificate program, I had to review a neuroscientific journal article. Martha Farah herself suggested I review Ingalhalikar et al.’s famous connectome study. Recently (almost a year ago …), this study led to many headlines suggesting that men’s and women’s brains are “wired differently.” My 2,000-word review is geared towards a neuroscientific audience. I am providing the final two paragraphs below, and you can download the entire .pdf here.

A more substantial revision than the section-wise suggestions provided thus far seems advisable if the authors wish to maximize their study’s impact on the discourse within the social sciences. The authors themselves suggest that the manuscript is of interest to an audience much broader than the neuroscientific community (p. 1). Ingalhalikar et al. aim at providing a biological foundation for how various cognitive and behavioral differences between females and males come into being. In doing so, they propose a scientific explanation for the neural bases of social phenomena. In order to speak to social scientists on matters of sex and gender, however, the manuscript would benefit from addressing the concerns of social scientists working on sex and gender, in particular the “neurofeminists” (Bluhm, Jacobson, & Maibom, 2012). One limitation of the manuscript is, for example, that it uses the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. Moreover, the way of reporting the differences in the manuscript is noticeably male-centric; it does not become clear whether the male characteristics are regarded as the norm or whether the findings for females showed less significance (e.g., the non-provided P in the connection-wise analysis for females; p. 2). In particular regarding the developmental aspects of the study, it may be beneficial to clarify to what extent the data suggests that sex differences increase in older age. Since the brain is structurally plastic, it would be suitable if the discussion section of the manuscript addressed the question of whether sex differences may be amplified due to gendered education and social experience, as it has been suggested by feminist scholars both from the neuro- and social sciences (Kaiser et al., 2009).

In conclusion, this is a solid study with important and significant findings regarding the structural connectome in female and male brains. In order to make functional inferences and speak to more behavioral and social topics, however, the manuscript would benefit from some revisions. References to a broader selection of scholarship within and beyond the neurosciences as well as a consideration of structural plasticity in connection with the developmental aspect of the authors’ argument would be particularly valuable.

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