Male and Female Brains

Some fascinating research as reported by the Guardian.

Male Brain
Male Brain

Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.

Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.

Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men’s brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women’s for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

“If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there’s a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better,” Verma said. “Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more.”

Female Brain
Female Brain

She added: “I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.”

The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps, they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Verma’s team used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to map neural connections in the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged eight to 22. The neural connections are much like a road system over which the brain’s traffic travels.

The scans showed greater connectivity between the left and right sides of the brain in women, while the connections in men were mostly confined to individual hemispheres. The only region where men had more connections between the left and right sides of the brain was in the cerebellum, which plays a vital role in motor control. “If you want to learn how to ski, it’s the cerebellum that has to be strong,” Verma said. Details of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds.

“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” Ruben Gur, a co-author on the study, said in a statement. “Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex-related.”

So the complementarian “equal but different functions” has something going for it. We’re wired as men and women to be better at certain things.

Some quick thoughts in the area of sexuality.

  • Can we do this for “gay”, “lesbian” and “bi” people please
  • Can we do this for trans people please – that would be fascinating
  • Really interesting is that the brains are roughly the same until puberty from when the brains grow differently

5 Comments on “Male and Female Brains

  1. I would also like to see what the scans of people from very different cultures would look like, just to test whether much of the difference can be put down to nurture and cultural conditioning. Also, how great are the differences that we are talking about? If shown a scan of a random brain’s wiring, how reliably could it be ‘sexed’ by a trained scientist?

  2. “Complementarity” jumps from description to proscription.

    Religious patriarchy is not arguing that, on average, men make better pastors than women (or, for that matter, that women make better pastors than men). It’s arguing that women ought to be banned from the presbyterate, regardless of their personal suitability (these findings are, after all, averages, from which individuals may differ). The ban isn’t based on evidence, but commands, from Paul of Tarsus, and whoever wrote the Pastorals.

    The study was from a small data-set, and, interestingly, the genders only diverged in early adolescence. I’m perfectly willing to accept its limited findings, but we need to see a lot more work done before we can generalize about the human race.

  3. I’d like to see more on this as well, as my skills and outlook matches the female description. I can’t drive and have poor motor co-ordinatin but am renowned for remembering small details of personal things and I’m an excellent multitasker!

  4. ‘We’re wired as men and women to be better at certain things.’

    I worry about the concept of hard-wiring. It can become a re-hashing of determinist arguments, where a mere innate propensity is treated as invincible force of nature. Perhaps, we can generalise about the neural propensities of each sex, but there’s been just as much research into the adaptive nature of brain networks (recovery after hydrocephalus).

    If anything, our brains are wired to be able to adapt to these differences as situations require by personal application and by both sexes learning from each other.

    • I think this needs to be seen in the light of the well-established concept of neuro-plasticity – humans are born with [relatively] very undeveloped brains, and it is early experience, learning and social factors, plus, according to this research, hormones, that have the major role in determining brain development.

      As Peter says, it would be very intereting to see results included for those with same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. It would certainly breathe some life into the stale old ‘born gay/chosen lifestyle’ debate.

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