Lower variability in female students than male students at multiple timescales supports the use of sex as a biological variable in human studies

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Background: Men have been, and still are, included in more studies than women, in large part because of the lingering belief that ovulatory cycles result in women showing too much variability to be economically viable subjects. This belief has scientific and social consequences, and yet, it remains largely untested. Recent work in rodents has shown either that there is no appreciable difference in overall variability across a wealth of traits, or that in fact males may show more variability than females. Methods: We analyzed learning management system logins associated to gender records spanning 2 years from 13,777 students at Northeastern Illinois University. These data were used to assess variability in daily rhythms in a heterogeneous human population. Results: At the population level, men are more likely than women to show extreme chronotypes (very early or very late phases of activity). Men were also found to be more variable than women across and within individuals. Variance correlated negatively with academic performance, which also showed a gender difference. Whereas a complaint against using female subjects is that their variance is the driver of statistical sex differences, only 6% of the gender performance difference is potentially accounted for by variance, suggesting that variability is not the driver of sex differences here. Conclusions: Our findings do not support the idea that women are more behaviorally variable than men and may support the opposite. Our findings support including sex as a biological variable and do not support variance-based arguments for the exclusion of women as research subjects.



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Biology of Sex Differences

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