Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Male Brain vs. the Female Brain

Larry Summers was right. Men and women really are different. And not just hormonally. Science has now proved that the male brain and the female brain are wired differently.

What are blithely called sexual stereotypes have a basis in neuroanatomy.  

The research into brain structure was not undertaken to disembarrass certain people of their bias. It was done in order to provide better treatment for neurological disorders. If a physician does not know the difference between the male and the female brain he will risk mistreating a patient.

The London Independent reports on the research results done at the University of Pennsylvania:

A pioneering study has shown for the first time that the brains of men and women are wired up differently which could explain some of the stereotypical differences in male and female behaviour, scientists have said.

Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

This difference in the way the nerve connections in the brain are “hardwired” occurs during adolescence when many of the secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair in men and breasts in women develop under the influence of sex hormones, the study found.

The researchers believe the physical differences between the two sexes in the way the brain is hardwired could play an important role in understanding why men are in general better at spatial tasks involving muscle control while women are better at verbal tasks involving memory and intuition.

Apparently, the female brain has qualities that make women good mothers:

Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks, she added.

“Intuition is thinking without thinking. It's what people call gut feelings. Women tend to be better than men at these kinds of skill which are linked with being good mothers,” Professor Verma said.

Men tend to outperform women involving spatial tasks and motor skills - such as map reading - while women tend to better in memory tests, such as remembering words and faces, and social cognition tests, which try to measure empathy and “emotional intelligence”

Now, we all want to know whether one type of brain is better than the other. Apparently, the jury is still out.

One psychologist concludes, for example, that women use much more of their brain power than do men. Many women have long suspected this, so it should not count as a revelation.

On the other hand, men who are less sensitive and intuitive can act more rapidly and more decisively. Presumably, this makes men better fighters than lovers.

What this means is that, at any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his, said Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist who was one of the study authors. He struggled when asked if this structure makes men superior at anything.

In fairness, he said, "each hemisphere is really a complete human being," so it's possible to function at a high level while using one hemisphere. It does mean, though, that men really are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.

The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an "I-see-and-then-I-do" attitude.

The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women's memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action.

Naturally, everyone wants to know whether these differences explain why men tend to do better than women in science and math. On this subject, the researchers refuse to opine.


Charles A Pennison said...

I saw this report yesterday, and was surprised that this research took this long to come to light. I remember discussing this in a few psychology classes that I took in the mid-1900's.

There are two other brain studies that had an impact on my understanding of human psychology:

Phineas Gage: a case study that drastically increased our understanding of how physical brain trauma can completely change a person's personality.

Genie the feral child: a case study on the importance of brain development in the first 12 years of life.

Ares Olympus said...

I read somewhere that men's brains were on average more lateralized, more specialized, so more geniuses when it worked well and more idiots when it didn't, while women's brains had a higher redundancy, and resilience to injury.

Charles A Pennison said...


Here's a research report on gender laterality: Laterality Patterns of Brain Functional Connectivity: Gender Effects.

"The greater lateralization of the male's brain (rightward and predominantly short-range) may underlie their greater vulnerability to disorders with disrupted brain asymmetries (schizophrenia, autism)."

Sam L. said...

Paging Larry Summers! Paging Larry Summers! Please come to a white courtesy telephone.

Anonymous said...

Hunting has greater occupational hazards than does gathering. Hunting is also far more creative and physically demanding for sustained duration. Yet both functions require communication and complex coordination. So thus means we are the same, but different, kind of like how boys enjoy contact sports and get up and cheer after a hit, while their mothers look on in empathic horror (and delight when successful). Women are not as tolerant to risk as men. The female physical structure is not as resistant to violent collisions. Just about every scientific discipline has borne these data, while most social sciences use every language trick to obfuscate and minimize them. None of this is surprising, for myriad reasons. Yet we continue to have these droll conversations and resist the obvious, working through the political, administrative and legal systems (all civilized luxuries when compared to millions of years of hominid genetics and cultural memes) to convince ourselves that these differences are all a grand illusion.

Hilarious. To be ignored...


Anonymous said...

It's always seemed odd to me that evolutionary scientists universally talk about the anatomical volumes of early hominid brains as if they were talking about something as innocuous as the existence of sandpaper. The theory is that smaller brains make early hominids cognitively inferior to modern humans. All scientific literature talks of the positive impact larger brain size (neocortex development and expansion) has on modern human performance in comparison to our primitive ancestors. This measurement of the cranial interior is usually done in cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches, and is correlated with cognitive function, and complexity... and the ability to adapt to and impact different natural environments. I have never heard this hypothesis seriously questioned.

But aren't women's average cranial capacities smaller than men's, given all measurements or scales of comparison? Does this have any impact on cognitive or biologically structural mental performance (or capability)? What of other cognitive capacities? If no, it makes no difference, why is that? And if yes, it does, how does this explain the clearly greater faculty women have over men in skills like verbal language, tactile acuity, sensitivity to smell and color, and many other abilities?

I am not a heavy-duty skeptic of evolution, though I do recognize it is a theory... unlike the prevailing scientific attitude that it is something akin to a law. That said, while I am sympathetic to evolutionary theory, it does seem like scientists want to have it both ways. They seem to make absolute claims of universal human equality in terms of global cognitive capacity, while simultaneously saying that evolutionary adaptations can happen over short periods of time -- and that these mutations are agnostic to benefit or detriment of the human organism. Are we to believe these degrees and variations don't apply to cognitive capacity? I feel that religious and/or mythical viewpoints have a stronger claim to universal human equality and dignity than do scientific explanations, at least as they relate to social conventions or moral imperatives regarding equality. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't cite biology journals to make his courageous claims of human dignity... he quoted from the Bible. And his message was taken seriously, as it should've been following the earlier part of the 20th century human horror show of eugenics, nazism, etc. This showed the limits of social Darwinism and the absolute freedom science claims to offer humanity.

Which is valid? If both are valid, how can this be?

When I consider these questions, it reminds me why "Lost In the Cosmos" by Walker Percy is one of my all time favorite books. Hilarious and insightful!


Charles A Pennison said...

Fact or Fiction: When It Comes to Intelligence, Does Brain Size Matter?

"...new scientific studies across several animal species, including humans, are challenging the notion that brain size alone is a measure of intelligence. Rather, scientists now argue, it is a brain's underlying organization and molecular activity at its synapses (the communication junctions between neurons through which nerve impulses pass) that dictate intelligence."

Anonymous said...

That's strange. Because anyone knows, the "science" (that would be statistics) tells us that women are far more likely than men to abuse and kill their own children. How can that be, if women are "hard-wired" to be "better mothers?"

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, Charles. Up until this point, I have never heard the cranial capacity hypothesis questioned. In fact, most of the science I'm referring to on this topic was from just ten years ago, if that. So does an ant have a better organized brain and synapses firing faster than a koala bear? Ants can do pretty amazing things, and so can bees for that matter. A koala bear lives in trees eating eucalyptus leaves and sleeps 23 hours each day. What contribution does it make, eh?

And why couldn't Austrolopithicus invent calculus? Are we seriously saying it's because he didn't have complex social networks to share knowledge? Are we saying that Neanderthal man was too into sports to be bothered with creative pursuits?

Makes one think more seriously about conjecture posing as "the science is settled," doesn't it? Kind of like wild apocalyptic fantasies posed by those of the science academy who regard anthropomorphic global warming as a "fact." Given the reactions climate scientists under questioning (when they will actually debate a skeptic), it seems like a matter of faith.

I am beginning to question the "studies say..." thing in this era of politicized, ideological social science posing as hard science. I wonder if it should be a posthumous addendum to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language."


Dennis said...

"I brought you into this world and I can take you out of this world." Easy to say when one knows that the possibility exist to bring another into the world. It would also explain why abortion is so easy to conceive of as a solution when a personal dilemma is extant.
Always interesting that the ability to be a great mother comes with the ability to be very destructive to life as well. Men have developed science, literature, engineering, great compassion at the same time that their ability to do great harm exists as well.
We live with both the "Yin" and the "Yang" or whatever terms one wants to assign the opposites of our being. To not understand that is to not understand life. Life prospers because of death.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm intrigued by Anon 6:27's remark about women being more likely to abuse or kill their children. I have no reason to doubt the point, but I would be interested to have a link to a study.

Anonymous said...


Do your own research.

You can't fudge facts. Child abuse is perpetrated by mothers with about twice the frequency as fathers. Who kills children? Mothers, far more often than fathers.

Oh, fathers lead in the "sexual abuse" category, whoo hoo.

Obviously, the mere fact that women are simply around children more often than fathers is going to ramp up the statistics. Of course. That is, whoever does the majority of the parenting is going to do the majority of the abuse.

Still, whither the "hard-wiring" of the brain? If women are "hard-wired" to be "better mothers," then why aren't they "hard-wired" to have more patience, to avoid violence, to be little angels and never harm their children?

The point being. You can try to make an argument that human anatomy alone "hard-wires" us for behavior, but without a cultural context it is ridiculous and meaningless.