Men are not from Mars and Women are not from Venus. If you want to be technical then the amino acids that started the evolution of all life may have arrived on our planet via meteorite, but that’s as far as it goes.
With that in mind then, how do you go about explaining all of the rather noticeable differences between the two genders? Well on the one hand you have society and upbringing, then you have hormones and the physical differences, and then finally you have the differences in the brain – some of which are themselves a result of differences in hormones. But how great are these differences? And how much can the brain really be blamed for all those arguments about the toilet seat? Here we will look at just how different the male and female brains are.
Research suggests that the difference in men and women’s brains begins before we are even born. Here the production of sex hormones starts to impact the development of our brains within the womb thickening the corpus callosum – a part of the brain that acts like a ‘bridge’ and connects the left and right hemispheres.
It has been suggested that this then alters the way that we understand language, and that women are more able as a result to use language across both hemispheres. Other studies have further supported this idea – and in one, researchers had participants read a novel while they used brain imaging software to see which areas of the brain were being used. In men it was only the left hemisphere (the language centre), while in women both hemispheres were activated. It also seems to explain why women are generally considered better at language before puberty, while males are more likely to suffer with dyslexia.
Meanwhile, fitting with gender stereotypes it seems that men have the advantage when it comes to maths and geometry and those parts of the brain (the inferior-parietal lobule) are found to mature roughly four years sooner in boys and remain larger in males. This is why women are generally thought to be more intuitive and sensitive, and better at communication, whereas men are considered better at task oriented activities and dry calculations.
Likewise in keeping with this ‘numbers and tasks’ guys versus ‘emotive and communicational’ woman, it’s worth noting that women are also better at empathy thanks to a deeper limbic system that puts them in better touch with their own emotions, and that men are better at spatial abilities because a woman’s parietal region is thicker and slower to operate – specifically making it harder for them to rotate shapes mentally.
Men 1-1 Women…
Size and Shape
These differences it seems endure through to adulthood, but they are not the only ways that the male and female brain differs. Also interesting for instance is the difference in the size and shape of the two brains. Male brains for instance are 10% larger than female brains. Before you text your girlfriend though, or delete this page from your history so that your boyfriend never finds it, note that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and that it depends which part of the brain men have more of.
Specifically it seems men have more grey matter (6.5 times as much), which makes up the neuronal cell borides and which is used in muscle control, perception and speech; while women have more white matter (9.5 times as much) which is used for connecting different areas of the brain. This is particularly found in the frontal cortex, which seems to be generally more highly organized in the female brain, again giving them an advantage in language. If you think of the brain as made up of lots of tiny computers, then the grey matter is the actual computers themselves, while the white matter is all the connective cables that runs between them.
It’s also worth noting how hormones affect the way we think and our personalities, and these are of course different in men and women. Women for instance have higher amounts of oestrogen which can lead to mood swings and can make them more prone to depression or anxiety – though the precise mechanism of oestrogen is very complex and not fully understood women are more likely to experience these issues in their oestrogen producing years than after the menopause.
Meanwhile men experience higher production of testosterone which can lead to great drive and competitiveness, while at the same time leading to shorter bouts of anger in reaction to stimuli. Men are also more likely to experience the ‘fight or flight’ response more greatly as they produce more adrenaline and cortisol in reaction to stress – the female equivalent sometimes being described as ‘tend or befriend’.
As you can see then there are numerous differences between the male and female brain, but this is still just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the role of environment and all the elements that we’re probably not even aware of yet. We’re a long way from repairing male-female relations just yet…