Sunday, August 05, 2007

Flip that switch!   posted by Razib @ 8/05/2007 11:32:00 AM

A functional circuit underlying male sexual behaviour in the female mouse brain:
We report here that Trpc2-/- female mice show a reduction in female-specific behaviour, including maternal aggression and lactating behaviour. Strikingly, mutant females display unique characteristics of male sexual and courtship behaviours such as mounting, pelvic thrust, solicitation, anogenital olfactory investigation, and emission of complex ultrasonic vocalizations towards male and female conspecific mice...These findings suggest that VNO-mediated pheromone inputs act in wild-type females to repress male behaviour and activate female behaviours. Moreover, they imply that functional neuronal circuits underlying male-specific behaviours exist in the normal female mouse brain.

Yes, yes, I know people aren't mice. But check out this piece on female autistics in The New York Times Magazine. Here's an interesting part:
No doubt part of the problem for autistic girls is the rising level of social interaction that comes in middle school. Girls' networks become intricate and demanding, and friendships often hinge on attention to feelings and lots of rapid and nuanced communication - in person, by cellphone or Instant Messenger. No matter how much they want to connect, autistic girls are not good at empathy and conversation, and they find themselves locked out, seemingly even more than boys do. At the University of Texas Medical School, Katherine Loveland, a psychiatry professor, recently compared 700 autistic boys and 300 autistic girls and found that while the boys' "abnormal communications" decreased as I.Q. scores rose, the girls' did not. "Girls will have more trouble with social networks if they're having greater difficulty with communication and language," she says.

I have offered the conjecture before that a lot of the social phenomena we see around us has to be filtered through the reality that men and women socialize very differently. Roughly, I believe that male socialization norms are more coarse, inflexible and girded by clear heuristics. In contrast, I think female social networks are more natural and leverage innate abilities of women to read faces, manner and engage in extreme intentionality. I believe this is one reason that patriarchy emerges in mass societies: though more coarse and less informative, I believe that simpler male interaction dynamics scale much more easily than the way women operate in groups. It naturally makes sense that high IQ autistic males could "fake it" or "get by" much more easily than high IQ autistic females, the male social system is much more clumsy and probably requires less innate cognitive skill.

Addendum: An example by analogy. A typical human has lighting fast numeracy perception. For example, compare someone who "recognizes" a set of objects from the 1 to 4 in quantity vs. someone counting 1, 2, 3, 4. Obviously the latter method is relatively slow and depends on a lot more cognitive scaffolding (various aspects of human intelligence). Gestalt recognition on the other hand is fast and almost unconscious. But now imagine the number of objects increasing. Soon you really don't have a good sense of numbers via innate numeracy, you can recognize proportions, but you can't recognize 73 objects. On the other hand, though counting is slow, and continues to take more time as the number of objects increases, but it scales so that you can feasible continue to count an increasing number so long as you're willing to put more time in it.