Q&A with Nathan Wallis

Q&A with Nathan Wallis

Q&A with Nathan Wallis
Neuroscience Educator and presenter of Prime Presents: All In The Mind

What do you expect to happen on the Manfeild: Circuit Chris Amon race track?
I am expecting to see me making a fool of myself, trying to drive a car really fast. Well, with Emma Gilmour, one of the world’s fastest women, I expect it to be a bit of fun really. It’ll be interesting to see the difference in testosterone levels, even though she’s a racer and I’m not. I still think that as a male I’ll have higher testosterone levels than her. I know from being involved in that work though that research is across a thousand people, so I can’t take that for granted that I’ll have higher testosterone than her. You know cortisol cancels out testosterone. She probably won’t have a lot of cortisol because she is used to racing, whereas I’m not so I will probably have lots and that could mean it skews the results.

Has anything surprised you on the way, while you’ve been talking to people?
Yeah, it has surprised me. It’s hard to put into words how it surprised me because sometimes I was surprised at how much we know and other times I’m surprised how little it’s advanced since I was studying it in the 1990’s. I was interested in the conversation with Professor Allan Herbison from the University Of Otago. It was fascinating talking about the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) and the role that it plays in gender, and also the role that may play in sexuality. It was interesting to me when they did this trick on participants that they did on me, where they put this baby boy in a girl’s outfit and presented him to me with his mother as a girl, but it’s still fascinating to me that I knew it was a boy. He looked like a boy, and I didn’t expect that. I would’ve thought it was the other way around, that a lot of it is we’re projecting it, that if you put the kid in a pink outfit it would look like a boy, I actually thought to myself that I can’t say out loud that it looks like a boy because it might actually be a girl. I found that interesting. 

How did you find that you were treating the baby in terms of its gender?
I think I tend to be more conscious about that than most people because of my background as a counsellor and a teacher, so I think I treat them fairly the same anyway. But I questioned the fact that I couldn’t identify why I knew it was a boy. I couldn’t look and go “there’s no physical feature that gives it away.” When I was grasping at straws it seemed to be because he looked at me for longer with more intense curiosity. Then I thought what I would expect is for a girl to look coy and demure and look away, which is clearly a projection of gender because they’re too young to be coy. So, when he looked longer at me like he was less threatened by another man, maybe that was it? But just the fact that I couldn’t put my finger on it meant that there’s more going on with projection and in this documentary we’re trying to break it down to every single aspect.