Posted by: ginalazenby | March 9, 2014

Then a silence fell upon the Opera House … and it was because of ME !


Four eminent thinkers and leaders in their fields of neuro-science, sociology, philosophy and psychology. It made for a brilliant cerebral outing in Sydney this sunny Sunday and as tempting as the sparkling water of the Harbour was, I chose to spend it with another 2,700 people in the sell-out event at the Opera House.

We had been promised  a glimpse into new leading edge research into Prospection … How we imagine and shape the future. This is a new area resulting from an inter-disciplinary collaboration of the four subjects mentioned led by the father of positive psychology Dr Martin Seligman. Right up my street!

We learned that new areas of the brain are oscillating in particular sequences that are creating a connectivity network that supports us imagining our future; that we metabolise our past in order to create new futures for ourselves; that we think about the future more than the past and that being in the now makes us happier; that positive heuristics is a very little known study of how, based on our experience and wisdom, we can shortcut our thinking and develop our potential to be more creative as we age  …. Wow, four big academic lectures one after the other. So much to take in!

OK I thought,  there’s so much new information coming in about the brain and we’re only just getting to hear about the differences in female brains after years of studies done by men on male brains (assuming they were the same) … current research is emerging that points to female brains being wired differently.  I wondered if the four presenters collaborating were factoring in gender difference in these new areas of research into our capacity to imagine a new future.

So I plucked up my courage and walked up to one of the microphones that had been placed under a huge bright spotlight on the upper level. I have to tell you that asking a question about gender of four male scientists in front of a few thousand people is really putting yourself out there! But I knew I just had to do it.

I asked whether they were considering gender difference ……   and then that was when the hall fell silent.  None of the panelists responded. There was some laughter, then a ripple of applause. One of the panelists started with … “it never occurred to me that there would be a fundamental difference … other than the kind imposed in upbringing….”. He talked about the brain’s incredible capacity to be plastic, malleable and responsive to its environment.  But all brains were essentially the same. So the answer was …. NO.

Martin Seligman pointed out that Prof Roy Baumeister had written several books on sex and gender including one called “Is there anything good about men?” which I bought immediately I got home (on Kindle).  Roy said that the difference between men and women is relatively small compared to the greater difference that can appear within the same sex. Interesting … a study to be continued for sure.

I spoke to them afterwards and specifically Dr Chandra about this. He did not think there was enough credible research in the area of brain wiring difference between men and women. That is so at odds with the research of Dr Daniel Amen and his findings about women’s brains being so different that he says they are literally wired for leadership. This is from his review of 45,000 brain scans .. the largest study of brain scans ever. Dr Chandra’s comments have now set me on a task to find out who is right ……?



  1. well done -great question and what a surprising response x

  2. The difference between brains fundamentally is a question of definitions. The question developmentally is recognized as a profound “yes” in that women have more corpus collosum and many other synaptic connections which are created by different environmental and functional demands and then of course there is an enormous chemistry difference based on hormones. Dr. Amen is a profound specialist. Dr. Seligman a niche specific generalist. The amazing thing about your courage and the true “fundamental” question asked by you was that the speakers had not examined nor tested their assumptions. They came from gender bias without knowing it or intending to.

    The field is exploding.

    Bravo to you!


    • Thanks for being a champion of support here Jack ….. Dr Chandra said that Dr Amen’s work has not been peer-reviewed so it cannot be counted as credible data. I am onto this now … I intend to follow up with Dr Amen, read Prof Baumeister’s book and get back to Dr Chandra. If this group really are at the leading edge of a new science of the future-thinking capacity of our brains then this is a good opportunity to look at potential gender difference of brain structure and operation, outside of hormonal differences, and beyond stereotypical cultural programming. Let’s see. Thanks Jack.

  3. Brave indeed Gina! Wonder if you – or any of the respondents here – have come across Dr Anne Moir and her work on brain difference. Recommend dropping in on her site

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