People like to think that men’s brains and women’s brains are fundamentally the same. But research indicates that men and women do in fact have different structures and wiring in the brain, and men and women may also use their brains differently.
Men do score better at tasks that involve orienting objects in space, while women do better at language tests.
Scientists have known for a while now that men and women have slightly different brains, but for many years they thought the changes were limited to the hypothalamus -- the part of your brain that controls sex drive and food intake.
In 2001, researchers found that certain parts of the brain were differently sized in males and females. The study found that parts of the frontal lobe, responsible for problem-solving and decision-making, and the limbic cortex, responsible for regulating emotions, were larger in women. In men, the parietal cortex, which is involved in space perception, and the amygdala, which regulates sexual and social behavior, were larger.
Men also have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, and women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think -- gray matter is full of active neurons, while white matter consists more of connections between the neurons.
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.
However, average IQ scores are the same for both men and women.
The stereotypical, if not inherent, differences between how men and women think and operate have baffled us throughout history, and have been the fodder for many a comedian. In this hilarious video from Laughyourway.com, comedian Mark Gungor gives you one theory to explain the functional differences between men’s and women’s brains.
But researchers are now beginning to confirm what many have intuited all along: that men’s and women’s brains really are different, all social equality issues aside. One of the primary reasons for this is simply hormonal influence. Men have far more testosterone and women far more estrogen, and these hormones clearly influence brain development.
Independent of these hormonal influences, researchers have also discovered that the human brain is far more adaptable and changeable than previously thought.
Busting Myths About Your Brain
For example, contrary to old-school beliefs, your brain keeps on developing well into middle age, which could have important implications for the prevention of age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Turns out your brain is much more like a muscle than we ever thought. Meaning, your brain's structure continues change over time, and it may be possible to, in essence, "bulk up" your brain throughout much of adulthood.
Brain volume was commonly believed to stop expanding after age 20. But in MRI brain scans researchers have found that white matter in the brain continues to increase until people are in their mid- to late-40s.
I haven’t personally reviewed this research so I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that the study was done on the “average” non-healthy population, so if you pursued a healthy lifestyle, my guess is that this growth could continue to expand well into old age, especially if you continue to exercise your brain.
You see, your brain keeps growing in the temporal lobe and frontal lobes -- the parts of your brain that largely differentiates you from animals. This continued brain growth into middle-age can be associated with better emotional development and wisdom, which generally applies equally to men and women as they age.
Now, since your brain keeps maturing in adulthood, drug use, poor nutrition or other assaults on your brain can actually stop you from reaching full development. On the other hand, continuing to stimulate and challenge your brain throughout adulthood might promote its growth -- just as exercise builds muscle.
They’ve also realized that your brain can repair itself by growing new cells – something believed to be impossible as late as the 1990s.
The idea that you’re only using 10 percent of your brain has also been proven untrue.
So rather than asking yourself how you can find the secret to unlocking the “dormant” areas of your brain, you’d be better served asking how you might improve upon your existing brain capabilities. This could be accomplished in several ways, most importantly through a nutritious eating program and regular exercise.
The Lowdown on “Smarts”
As described in the article above, men have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, whereas women have about 10 times more white matter than men do, which could explain many of the differences in how men and women think.
Because whereas your gray matter is full of active neurons, your white matter consists more of connections between the neurons. Mark Gungor’s hilarious description of men’s brains consisting of “compartmentalized boxes,” vs. women’s brains being like a ball of wire where everything touches and connects with everything else, is an apt illustration of these scientific findings.
Those connections may also allow a woman's brain to work faster than a man's, allowing women to multitask better, for example – yet another stereotype that may hold some truth.
And, although women’s brains are slightly smaller in mass than men’s, the neurons in women’s brains are packed in more tightly, sitting closer together. Some women have as much as 12 percent more neurons than men do, and the closer proximity between the neurons also increase processing speed.
But the one discovery I find particularly interesting is that men and women access different sections of their brain to perform the same task.
It’s a beautiful illustration that there is more than one way for the human brain to arrive at the same result. It’s not necessary to process things, or think alike, to reach the same conclusion or answer. And it has no major impact on overall intelligence – either way will work just fine when taking that IQ test.
Isn’t that a relief!
If Male and Female Brains Function Differently, Should Medical Interventions Be the Same?
On a more serious note, these findings also show yet another hidden danger of new drugs, as much of the research for new neurological medications is conducted on male volunteers and male animals exclusively.
Although not frequently discussed, and usually ignored entirely by conventional physicians, there are unique differences between men’s and women’s disease patterns and pathology when suffering from the same disease. And, their best form of treatment may also vary.
This fact is ignored when pharmaceuticals are dispensed, and if the effects of the medication have only been studied in male brains, it raises the question:
Will the neurological effects, and side effects, be identical in women?
For example, neurological disorders like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease have significantly different disease pathologies between the sexes. What that means is that the abnormalities caused by Alzheimer’s disease may differ depending on whether you’re male or female, and therefore result in different symptoms or behavioral problems.
As always, the more we learn, the more we realize how little we really know about the interconnectedness, and innate intelligence, of the human body. And it’s this very lack of in-depth knowledge that makes it so profoundly dangerous to fiddle around with prescription drugs, all of which are chemicals foreign to your body, which can result in completely unpredictable and unforeseen interactions and complications.