Brain plasticity and sexual orientation: Wrapping up with a couple of experts

Earlier this month, I posted three times regarding an article by Neil and Briar Whitehead with the title, “Brain Plasticity Backs Up Orientation Change.” This is a wrap up for those posts to indicate that very little backs up the Whiteheads’ article.

I asked Adam Safron and Norman Doidge to comment about the Whitehead article. Dr. Doidge is the author of the book (The Brain that Changes Itself) misrepresented by the Whiteheads. As I noted in a previous post, the Whiteheads failed to cite Doidge completely and provided quotes which gave the incorrect impression of Dr. Doidge’s views. About sexual reorientation, Dr. Doidge pointed me to the correct passages in his book and wrote in an email:

Readers of all my actual quotes will see that I have made no comments on therapeutic techniques for changing sexual preference and plasticity in my book.

And of course, that is the problem with how the Whiteheads treated Doidge’s book. As I pointed out here, they provided only part of his quotes and failed to include what he actually said about sexual preferences, which was very little.

Adam Safron is a researcher at Northwestern University and the lead author of the article I often cite here titled, “Neural Correlates of Sexual Arousal in Homosexual and Heterosexual Men.” He read the Whitehead article and had several reactions, two of which I will share here. First, the Whiteheads say that changing sexual orientation and learning a musical instrument would be about the same.

Because of brain plasticity it’s quite possible that homosexuals can become more heterosexual and heterosexuals could become homosexual, though persistent work could be needed, about equivalent to learning a new musical instrument.

Safron’s reaction to this was to say, “There is absolutely no evidence for this statement.” However, in spite of no evidence, the Whiteheads press their case regarding musical lessons and sexual preference. They write:

Even if part of the brain is strongly associated with a particular sexuality it should be possible to change it. Stopping a sexual activity and avoiding stimulation of that brain region, and plunging into some other intense brain activity for months would lead to a diminishing of the intensity of that sexual response. Months is about the timescale of first significant change. That can be true for learning a musical instrument too!

To this proposition, Safron responded,

But the devil is in the details here.  How large is the change? How permanent? People can frequently modify their behavior on short time-scales but find themselves going back to their old ways on longer time scales. These arm-chair speculations are no substitution for real studies actually looking at the efficacy of therapy designed to change orientation.

No substitute indeed. Safron makes a good observation. What does plasticity mean in terms of durability? And then how would be able to know unless research can find some verification. Unless the Whiteheads are keeping secrets, we can only go on what research we have. Apparently, learning a new orientation is not as easy as learning a new musical instrument, given the modest changes reported in existing studies.

Parents and Friends of Ex-gays now has this article up as well.

Related posts:

Brain plasticity and sexual orientation: Train it to gain it?

NARTH authors again mislead readers: More on brain plasticity and sexual orientation

My Genes Made Me Do It and brain plascticity