The battle of the sexes has no end and it continues forever! Anatomical differences in body structure, facial hair and sex organs are well-know, but do such differences reach our brains too?
Researchers have been working on the underlying differences in brain structures between a man and a woman and have come up with evidence-linked conclusions. On an average, a man’s brain has almost 8-13% larger total brain volume than a woman’s brain. Brain composition also differed greatly-male brains have much more white matter while female brains contain more grey matter in the cerebral cortex. Women have thicker cortices (increased cognition and overall intelligence) than men and men had higher brain volumes than women in every subcortical region including the hippocampus, amygdala, striatum and thalamus.
Now, how do men and women react to the same external stimuli/cognitive skills? If they react differently, how do they perform the same task and will such differences affect brain disorders?
Different by Birth
As soon as a new born comes into this world, the infant is wrapped up in a blue or pink towel denoting that he/she is a boy or girl respectively. For example, one study done on rhesus monkeys offered male and female monkeys girly (plush) or boyish (Wheeled) toys and observed the toys chosen by any of them. The research team were surprised at how the male rhesus monkey preferred the wheeled-toys while the female rhesus monkey wanted the plush ones. This shows how boys and girls differ in their choice of physical activity and energy expenditure. A seven-month old baby girl loves to see faces and expresses joy when people surround her. These are genetically tuned behaviors which can never be removed from our DNAs. It can only be modified as the infant grows.
Different Activation Patterns
There are a number of studies that focus on the different brain parts that are activated while performing a similar task. For instance, male and female participants were asked their solution for a maze task where the participants were requested to find their way out of a complex maze. In men, the left hippocampus (context-dependent memory) sparked immediately and in women the right posterior parietal cortex associated with spatial perception, motor control and right preferential control immediately lit up. There are already results supporting the fact that men outperform women in specific spatial tasks and this includes the fact that men have a better sense of direction than women. Read more about this at www.firsteatright.com. Hippocampus is needed to make use of cardinal directions and this helps men solve the maze problem much faster. In early times, men were hunters and women were gatherers which led to different ways in which the brain evolved. This makes women better at finding objects locally. For instance, women are much adept at finding things in the house while men are faster at finding the house.
A study analyzed three groups of people: male-male, female-female and male-female couples who performed similar tasks that needed synchronization and cooperation. Same-sex couples performed better but different brain parts were activated in the male-male versus female-female subjects. Such different activation patterns lead to different behavior between the two sexes.
Even while resting, male and female brains work differently. In a resting state, the brains are not responding to any direct tasks, but it doesn’t mean that the brains are not active. When male and female brains were scanned at rest, it showed that the various differences between males and females at this state might be the reason for the difference in their behavior too.
But, there are also studies that show that there is no significant difference in the white and grey matter in brains of people of different sexes. Human brains possess different interests, behaviors and attitudes and instead of differentiating human brains as masculine or feminine, it would be better if we start understanding and appreciating the diversity of our human brain.
Never cheat a woman, she reads you like an open book! Women constantly boast of being better judges at people’s behavior and a study also seconds their beliefs. Women outperform men in terms of social cognition and in ways they understand and respond to other people’s social behavior. Areas of brain responsible for brain function shows that men’s brain try to work hard to process social information and take decisions.
Men and women react to situations differently and suffer from different set of problems due to their emotional quotient. One study shows that microglia, specialized cells belonging to the brain’s immune system, are much more active in women showing that women are more exposed to chronic pain than men. Also, women show increased brain activity in more regions of the brain compared to men. Women show increased functioning of the prefrontal cortex and the limbic regions, both of which are associated with impulse control and mood regulation, and this shows clearly that women are much more susceptible to depression and anxiety disorders. That’s also due to the fact that women keep replaying the situation, concentrating more on the problems and the negativity surrounding these problems rather than involving themselves in solving the problem at hand.
A vast study of the sex-based differences in the brain confirms that men and women suffer from different brain disorders-autism, ADHD, conduct disorder, specific language impairment, Tourette syndrome and dyslexia are profoundly visible among males while conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder and anorexia nervosa are predominantly present among females.
Women are talkative and love to chat which all of us are aware about. But this does not stop with gossip or useless chats but also prove to be useful in demonstrating verbal abilities. In general, women excel in verbal abilities, reading skills and writing performances far better than men and are quick to retrieve information from long-term memory. Men, on the other hand, excel in visualizing 2D or 3D objects in space, at aiming projectiles and tracking moving objects.
Men and women have different sex hormones-estrogen and progesterone in women; testosterone and androgen in men; Brain regions that differ in size between the two sexes contain high receptors for these sex hormones. Also, the sex chromosomes that form one pair among the 23 pairs of human chromosomes in each cell activate the brain differently.
Whatever might be your sex, it finally depends on the individual to take it up in his/her stride and do as much as possible to achieve best results in any field. There might be genetic differences in which we are wired, but nurture plays an equal role in molding our skills and tune-fining our thinking caps.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.