The belief has become widespread, particularly in the wake of the publication of international bestsellers, such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which stress the innate differences between the minds of men and women.
Problem is that it all appears to be wrong. In fact, there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, according to a new book Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, to be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men but the wiring is soft, not hard.
In short, our intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility. It is a case backed by Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School. ''All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong,'' she says.
''Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children's intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don't inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.''So boys develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and are encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents.
The present popular stress on innate intellectual differences between the sexes is, in part, a response to psychologists' emphasis of the environment's importance in the development of skills and personality in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This led to a reaction against nurture as the principal factor in the development of human characteristics and to an exaggeration of the influence of genes and inherited abilities.
In fact, many of the studies that claim to highlight differences between the brains of males and females are spurious. They are based on tests carried out on only a small number of individuals and their results are often not repeated by other scientists. However, their results are published and accepted by teachers and others as proof of basic differences between boys and girls.
We then get all sorts of ridiculous conclusions about very important issues being made. Already sexism disguised in neuroscientific finery is changing the way our children are taught. There is almost nothing we do with our brains that is hard-wired. Every skill, attribute and personality trait is moulded by experience.