Looking at the sales of glossy magazines that promise to teach us how to work with someone of the opposite gender as well as self-help books are proof that we need a little help understanding what’s going on inside our heads.
As it turns out, it may be better to turn to neuroscience rather than to those glossy magazines. Research indicates that we do in fact have different brain structures and connections, and we might also use our brain differently. I am going to select some of these differences to discuss below.
To begin with it is very important to know that the size and activity of our brains are different. Men have bigger but less active brains. Brain of a man is 8 to 10 percent larger than a woman’s restless brain. But the total size doesn’t necessarily mean better, because also inside the brain the size of various regions differs. Women have bigger frontal lobe which is essential for decision making, problem solving, multitasking and lots of other complicated functions. The bigger Orbitofrontal cortex in women results in having more impulse control among them. Since women tend to have a larger deep limbic system than men, they’re more in touch with their feelings and are better at expressing their emotions. This makes women better at connecting with others, but unfortunately also more prone to different types of depression. Women also appear to have a higher emotional intelligence (EQ).
Many men are sharply left-brain dominant, they are more strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere, while women tend to be more evenly balanced between left and right-brain processing. Women are therefore thought to be slightly more intuitive. Men are often less socially adept, and are more task-oriented thinkers than females. On the other hand men have bigger parietal lobe which is crucial for space perception and orientation in space. This parietal region is thicker in the female brain, making it harder for them to mentally rotate objects, which is an important spatial skill. Women often report difficulty with spatial tasks, both on tests and in real life. The inferior part of the parietal lobule, which controls the numerical brain function, is larger as well in males. On standardized tests, men often score higher on mathematical tests than women. Also amygdale is larger in male brain which regulates the sexual behavior and fight- flight reactions and also plays a large role in emotional memory formation and storage. On average, women retain emotional memories more vividly than do men. Sometimes, however, this can have a negative effect on women and they may have impaired memory at times due to strong emotional overlap. Another negative outcome of women forming strong emotional memories is again an increased vulnerability to depression. Females tend to dwell on negative feelings or “memories of negative life experiences” which can lead to depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder, is also more prevalent in women (2 times more common in women than in men) for similar reasons. Emotional memory encoding also differs between the male and female amygdala; males encode emotional memories using the right side of their amygdala while women use the left. When faced with stressful situations, men are usually more alert and employ ‘fight or flight’ tactics, while women use a ‘tend or befriend’ response that is rooted in their natural instincts for caring for their children and establishing strong group bonds. A behavioral difference that has been linked to the amygdala’s size is sexual drive. Men have a greater sex drive than women; this may be due to the fact that males have a larger amygdala.
Here comes a very famous one that men might like to hear: women talk too much? It is true that women use language more and easier in different situations than men do and are purported to have better communication skills and are better at language-based tasks. That’s because of two reasons 1-language-associated cortical regions are proportionally larger in the female brain. 2- Women process language in both hemispheres while males favor a single brain half.
Let’s take a look at one of my favorites which is the gray and white matter. Men have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, but listen to this: Women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think. Men seem to think with their gray matter, which is full of active neurons. Women think with the white matter, which consists more of connections between the neurons. In this way, a woman’s brain is a bit more complicated in setup, but those connections may allow a woman’s brain to work faster than a man’s.
In women’s brains, the neurons are packed in tightly, so that they’re closer together. This proximity, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Some women even have as many as 12 percent more neurons than men do. In studying women’s brains, those neurons were found to be most densely crowded on certain layers of the cortex, namely the ones responsible for signals coming in and out of the brain. This could be one of the reasons why women tend to score higher on tests that involve language and communication. These differences might be present from birth.
But the density of women’s neurons, or the size of a man’s brain, is not enough for predicting intelligence. As we’ve already said, men use gray matter, and women use white, but they’re also accessing different sections of the brain for the same task. In one study, men and women were asked to sound out different words. Men relied on just one small area on the left side of the brain to complete the task, while the majority of women used areas in both sides of the brain. However, both men and women sounded out the words equally well, indicating that there is more than one way for the brain to arrive at the same result. For example, while women get stuck with a bad reputation for reading maps, it may just be that they orient to landmarks differently. And as for intelligence, average IQ scores are the same for both men and women.
The last point I would like to write about here is the susceptibility to brain disorders. Men are more likely to be dyslexic or have other language disabilities, since they are more often left-brain dominant. Males are also more prone to ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and autism, while women are as we said before, more susceptible to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
It is important to notice that I didn’t want to discuss the effects of hormones which have huge influences on the brain function. Maybe we could get back to it another time. For now I hope you found this topic as intriguing as I did and enjoyed this amount of collected information. If you have alternative points of view as many people do, please do not hesitate to let me know.