Are Female And Male Brains Different?

Heated debates about whether brains differ between the sexes do not cease to spark, and even scientists themselves do not share the same opinion. While there are many people who claim the difference between a man and a woman lies within the domain of biochemistry and anatomical features of the brain, it appears to be different from what people are used to hearing.

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People often ascribe certain traits and abilities to a particular sex: they say, women are more talkative, if not loquacious, and capable of showing greater empathy due to their brain peculiarities. They same is said about men: being better at maths and the love of fishing are attributed to the differences in female and male brain structures. However reasonable it may sound to some, the assumption does not stand up to scrutiny.

Not so different

The most commonly used argument is that men’s brains are 10% larger. Despite the seeming importance of this piece of evidence, it does not reveal any differences in how brains work: simply being bigger does not mean superiority. A whale’s brain is larger than that of humans, which is not a reason to say they are way smarter. Women are usually smaller than men, and all their organs are thus smaller as well, including their kidneys, lungs, etc. Why should the brain be different?

A recent study carried out by a team of scientists from the University of Zurich revealed that every brain is unique. Just like we have unique fingerprints, our brains differ, and their anatomical features vary not only between the sexes, but from person to person. Having analyzed more than 200 MRI scans, they came to the conclusion that the brain anatomy is affected significantly by both genetic and non-genetic factors: it is what activities we do, both mental and physical, that matter, rather than sex.

Is there at least any difference?

Some structural differences appear to depend in sex, and brain size is not the only one. For instance, women’s cerebral cortices are generally thicker, but it does not seem to correlate with any ability. However, even these parameters vary in a way similar to that of height: while most women are smaller than men, it does not mean there are no tall females or small males.

In 2015, Israeli scientists reported that in most people the brain combines the predominantly masculine and predominantly feminine structural features, so the overwhelming majority of brains simply do not fit a particular gender profile. Rather, the organ is a patchwork of areas that tend to vary, but this variability is absolutely normal.

Image Credit: / Valery Sidelnykov

Even the differences in neural pathways which are sometimes found while analyzing MRI scans do not account for the sex-specific traits the existence of which is widely discussed and extensively researched. Women have more connections going right and left, whereas males have more developed circuitry going from front to back. While different models can do the same tasks, they may do it in different ways: it’s like driving somewhere taking different routes but reaching the same destination.

All this boils down to the conclusion that the debate is doomed from the every beginning: from the scientific point of view, it depends on what is being measured; both scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests there is no male-female difference, as far as the brain is concerned: while the sexes definitely differ, it’s not some sex-related predetermined anatomy that is solely responsible for our abilities, traits and other individual parameters.

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