Academic to debate gender of the brain

Professor Gina Rippon

29 April 2015

How men and women think and the ways in which they differ will be hotly contested by a distinguished Aston Professor and two of the UK’s most preeminent academics at the world’s largest philosophy festival.   

Aston’s Professor Gina Rippon will debate with noted Cambridge psychologist Professor Baron-Cohen and influential Darwinian philosopher, Helena Cronin, at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye. 

Their discussion will focus on whether the claim that there are mental differences between the sexes is real or simply the result of sexism masquerading as science. They will deliberate the extent to which popular gender stereotypes are rooted in fact or if they are the work of long-standing social prejudice and misunderstanding. 

Respected neuroscientist Professor Rippon is a passionate advocate of the belief that male and female brains are fundamentally almost identical. She will argue this point at the festival, stating that any differences are the result of cultural and environmental stimuli. 

Gender stereotypes are imposed on children at a young age, for example with certain expectations of how they should play and which toys they should play with. Professor Rippon believes segregating the way children in this manner could be changing how their brains develop. 

Professor Rippon said: “This is my first time at HowTheLightGetsIn and I’m really looking forward to it. As a neuroscientist, I am really concerned about the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of our work, especially where they are used to prop up prejudices which can affect how girls think about themselves and their place in society and their confidence in their abilities. Hopefully, over the course of the debate, those misconceptions can be challenged.” 

The panel debate, guided by host and academic Dr Mark Salter, is likely to spark lively discord. Professor Baron-Cohen has previously stated his belief in the fundamental biological differences between the male and female brain while Dr Cronin has argued that mental divergence between the sexes is a by-product of evolution, citing evidence that men, on average, have an advantage in certain quantitative and spatial abilities. 

More than 650 events, including debates, concerts, stand-up comedy, film showings and poetry readings, will take place at this year’s HowTheLightGetsIn. The festival, which aims to engage as wide an audience as possible with philosophy, is organised by the Institute of Art and Ideas. 


For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or