The Truth About Differences Between the Male and Female Brain


Males and females of all species have coexisted in synchronous harmony for many, many years. Well, at least until humans came along. In animals, both sexes normally do their biological share of tasks to keep reproduction alive and survive the grueling process of natural selection. To do this, they must be tough enough physically to survive, sharp enough to outsmart others, and most importantly…sexually active enough to make babies. When it comes to human beings, we are slightly more curious about the process, which has spurred feminism, meninism, and all the other groups of “isms” that exist. We want to know the good stuff, the answers, the truth.  Which tasks should males and females do? Which tasks are they designed to do? Are either of the sexes designed to due specific things at all, or are all brains the same? Should a woman be a housewife? Should a man do manual labor? Should the roles cease to exist, or should they be reversed? And let’s not forget the most profound question on our mind, “Are males or females more intelligent?” The answers to these questions are embedded in the neuroscience and psychological research within reach of your internet-savvy fingertips. The information I’m about to give you may ruffle your feathers slightly but brush it off and be objective. It’s wonderful for your mind and will help you see the longstanding competition between guys and gals in a new light.

On the Question of Intelligence

Many researchers have done a tremendous amount of work administering various types of intelligence tests to men and women in hopes of determining a victor. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. This is mainly because humans have no clue what intelligence really is. Scientists and teachers can test things like mathematical ability, verbal fluency, and spatial reasoning, but does having a high score on these dimensions give us enough ground to consider the person intelligent? Well, in our world the most successful humans are those that survive and have offspring. It’s as simple as that. Do you need a high level of mathematical ability to do this? Does reading comprehension matter? Or are there other traits of intelligence we should be measuring, such as how accurate you can throw a rock at a wild animal to defend your family. What about how rapidly you can communicate with multiple people through texting and emails to build a social circle around yourself? That seems important nowadays. The point is, intelligence entails many capabilities of humans that we simply cannot assess. So, if you are hoping for a verdict on who’s smarter of the sexes, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, I can tell you some of the skills that differ between males and females, specific brain areas that are smaller, larger, or more well-connected than others, and even differences in their typical behavior.

Differences in Psychiatric Illnesses and Behavior

If we are going to discuss the differences, we must lay down a few ground rules. All brains are different. There are no two the same. Why? Because the development and structures within your brain shape themselves according to your genes (who your parents are) and the environment (what you’ve been exposed to in life). This is that whole nature/nurture debate. Although all brains are different, they do have a similar template or guideline that they develop by. This template happens to be different between males and females.  We can see this difference in common neuropsychiatric illnesses. For example, autism is between 4 and 7 times more likely to develop in males than females (Research on Autism). Alongside this, males typically have a higher incidence of developing ADHD (Research on ADHD). In women, anxiety and depression are more common than in men, but these traits usually don’t appear until puberty when all those cool hormones start kicking in (Research on Anxiety). Understandable. Women also have a greater likelihood of developing eating disorders (Research on Eating Disorders). All these things tell us that there must be some difference in the template between the two sexes, but there is also a chance that these illnesses could be imposed by society, as many feminists may see it. Our society tends to have specific “gender-roles” that each sex should abide by to be accepted. I understand this is a loose way of phrasing it, but I think it’s politically correct. Oh well. You get it.

Different Skill Sets

Males tend to show more physical aggression and have enhanced spatial skills when compared to females. These traits likely stem from those good ol’ hunter-gatherer times. Men were suggested to have worked together in packs to take down large animals, while women, the gatherers, foraged the earth for edible food and protected the young. It would be beneficial for men to develop better spatial ability and a propensity for aggression to survive against the beasts roaming the land (Article on Sex Differences). On the other hand, research shows women tend to have an enhanced verbal mediated memory and higher levels of social cognition and perception when compared to men(Article on Skill Sets). Looking back through a hunter-gatherer perspective once again, this makes sense. Women were considered gatherers which entailed having a superior memory in recalling where edible food sources were, and since they oversaw the protection of children and needed to understand their maternal needs, they developed a great deal of social understanding alongside their boost in memory capacity. The behavior of men and women does not suggest there is a winner between the two, but that the two sexes were designed each with their own set of skills, which happened to fit perfectly with the skills of the opposite sex. What one sex lacks, the other makes up for. What a lovely system.

Differences in Brain Structure and Connectivity

Not all discrepancies between males and females can be accredited to society’s pressure on individuals to fit the role of a man or woman. Many of these differences are glued with a genetic, biological foundation. The two major sex hormones, estrogen (female hormone) and testosterone (male hormone), are released throughout the brain and body during life to build a physical template for a man or woman. If you look around the population, you can see these chemicals at work as males and females look absolutely nothing alike. Not only do the hormones design a physical appearance for us, but they also regulate the development of unique sectors in your brain. So, let’s peer into the true structure of the male and female brain and see the neural systems that back up all this jive I’ve been talking.

The Amygdala

The amygdala is a tiny, almond-shaped structure deep within your brain. It’s most prominently known for regulating your emotions, particularly fear; it helps to recognize important things in the environment that may be detrimental to your life. If a wolf is about to attack you, your amygdala will trigger fear and anxiety, and help you realize you are in a bad situation. If this happens, remove yourself from those circumstances. Anyway, men have a proportionally larger amygdala than women during adulthood, and during adolescence the volume of this structure increases significantly only in boys (Article on Neural Structures). It comes as no surprise that the amygdala is packed with androgen (testosterone) receptors.  This follows suit with the hunter-gatherer stuff we were discussing. Men likely developed a larger amygdala to have a better awareness of threats in the environment. This also could make them more susceptible to aggressive behavior since the amygdala technically handles those emotions too.

The Hippocampus

https://i2.wp.com/www.hormonesmatter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/hippocampus.jpg

               Do you recall the previous talk of women having better memory systems and more advanced social cognition? There is brain data to back this up, as well, and these abilities come from a neural structure that happens to be packed with estrogen receptors. SURPRISE SURPRISE. This area is called the hippocampus, and its shaped sort of like a seahorse. The hippocampus is best known for it’s aptitude in long-term memory storage and retrieval. In the adolescence of women, only they experience a vast increase in the volume of this module and they continue to have a relatively bigger hippocampus throughout their lives (Article on Sexual Dimorphism in the Brain). This could explain the extreme ability of the female human to recall events that happened 10 years ago with precision, or their knack for handling multiple social relationships with ease.

Hemispheric Connectivity

                This last section may be the most important to understand the intricacy of differences between males and females, guys and gals, men and women, boys and girls, and all the other names for the pair. To start things off, you have two hemispheres in your brain each with an identical set of structures. For instance, your left hemisphere has an amygdala and your right hemisphere also has one, and the same is true for nearly all brain structures (exclusion of the pineal gland which isn’t important now). Although they appear identical, the left hemisphere is known for things like language and analytical reasoning, while your right hemisphere is known for skills like spatial cognition and intuitive intelligence.

Now, there are two terms you’ve got to know. Within-hemispheric connectivity means the template of the neural wires in your brain is set up for each hemisphere to operate independently of each other, for the most part. Interhemispheric connectivity, on the other hand, means that your template is set up for the hemispheres to communicate with each other A LOT. Which do you think is male and which is female? Don’t worry, I got your back here. Women tend to have greater interhemispheric connectivity which means their left and right hemispheres are communicating information with each other in ten-folds compared to men (Article on Connectivity Between the Sexes). The hemispheres constantly talking to each other allows for a woman’s state-of-the-art manipulation of language and their intuitive gut feelings to intertwine, which makes for an organism that can ponder thoughts in multiple directions at once, multitask, understand advanced forms of emotion, and to be ideal for understanding the needs of a child who can’t yet speak its feelings.

Men on the other hand are characterized by within-hemispheric connectivity; their hemispheres act more independently. Additionally, men tend to have more connectivity between the cerebellum—the part of the brain that regulates motor movement—and their hemispheres. This allows for and efficient system for men to use coordinated action, or more simply to do complex tasks that require motor skills. It’s no surprise that most young boys at some point in their lives will have fantasies of becoming a professional athlete or a sorcerer that slays dragons. Pretty much anything requiring exceptional athletic ability. I don’t know what most young girls daydream of becoming, due to my male designed brain, but I’m sure it involves much more intuition, attention, and emotional processing than my template simply can’t handle.

Transexuality

This last section may be the most important to help you understand how testosterone and estrogen can tamper with the male and female templates of the brain. Transsexuals throughout their lives will have an unshakeable feeling that they were born of the wrong sex or may feel that they are man trapped in a woman’s body or vice versa. Research supports the notion that during development the delicate levels of estrogen and testosterone may be mixed up, so to speak (Article on Intersexuality and the Brain). If so, this could lead to a biological male with male counterparts developing the template of a female brain, including all of the differences in connectivity in relative sizes of the hippocampus and amygdala (among other brain structural changes). There you have it.  A simple explanation to what could explain a brain malfunction or simply the evolution of a new style of human meant to adapt, survive, and of course…make babies.

Now you have the information and you get to decide what to do with it. Men, if you fuel the notion that you are smarter than women and you think feminism is a joke, then you have many problems ahead of you. Not only will you be inaccurate with your information, but you will hold back the growth of our wonderful species and it will hinder all the feats we can achieve. Women, if you are an avid supporter of feminism and you believe that all women and men are equal, you are also feeding a fire that needs to be smothered. Women and men are vastly different in their behavior, their brain structure, and more importantly how their mind works. All of our quirks and gizmos are genetically set up to not only be unique, but to complement each other in our search of survival and developing a better society for our future young ones to grow up in. Even though it’s difficult with the pressures of our culture, appreciate all forms of humans as they are. We all need each other for this whole system to feel as smooth as silk.

-Zade

 

References

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  2. Baron-Cohen, S., Lombardo, M. V., Auyeung, B., Ashwin, E., Chakrabarti, B., & Knickmeyer, R. (2011). Why are autism spectrum conditions more prevalent in males?. PLoS biology, 9(6), e1001081.
  3. Giedd, J. N., Vaituzis, A. C., Hamburger, S. D., Lange, N., Rajapakse, J. C., Kaysen, D., … & Rapoport, J. L. (1996). Quantitative MRI of the temporal lobe, amygdala, and hippocampus in normal human development: ages 4–18 years. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 366(2), 223-230.
  4. Giedd, J. N., Castellanos, F. X., Rajapakse, J. C., Vaituzis, A. C., & Rapoport, J. L. (1997). Sexual dimorphism of the developing human brain. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 21(8), 1185-1201.
  5. Gur, R. C., Richard, J., Calkins, M. E., Chiavacci, R., Hansen, J. A., Bilker, W. B., … & Abou-Sleiman, P. M. (2012). Age group and sex differences in performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery in children age 8− 21. Neuropsychology, 26(2), 251.
  6. Halpern, D. F., Benbow, C. P., Geary, D. C., Gur, R. C., Hyde, J. S., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2007). The science of sex differences in science and mathematics. Psychological science in the public interest, 8(1), 1-51.
  7. Ingalhalikar, M., Smith, A., Parker, D., Satterthwaite, T. D., Elliott, M. A., Ruparel, K., … & Verma, R. (2014). Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(2), 823-828.
  8. Nøvik, T. S., Hervas, A., Ralston, S. J., Dalsgaard, S., Pereira, R. R., Lorenzo, M. J., & ADORE Study Group. (2006). Influence of gender on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Europe–ADORE. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 15(1), i15-i24.
  9. Swanson, S. A., Crow, S. J., Le Grange, D., Swendsen, J., & Merikangas, K. R. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents: Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of general psychiatry, 68(7), 714-723.
  10. Zhou, J. N., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J., & Swaab, D. F. (1995). A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. Nature, 378(6552), 68.
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