Are the brains of men and women fundamentally different?

Following a failure to understand the actions of the opposite sex, there are no doubt many of us who have shrugged our shoulders and sighed ‘I don’t know, we are just wired up differently’.

4th December 2013
Are the brains of men and women fundamentally different? (istock)

Following a failure to understand the actions of the opposite sex, there are no doubt many of us who have shrugged our shoulders and sighed "I don’t know, we are just wired up differently". But is there any truth in this oft-muttered lament?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania think so. When investigating differences in the connectomes - maps of the neural connections in the brain - of the two sexes, the team found greater neural connectivity from front to back and within one hemisphere in men, and more connections between the left and right hemispheres in women.

The findings reinforce long-held, but controversial, gender stereotypes that men excel when concentrating on single perception-based activities such as map reading, while women are more effective when multitasking or working in groups, the researchers claim.

“These maps show us a stark difference - and complementarity - in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” said Ragini Verma, the paper’s author.

However, the study has come under criticism for failing to account for neuroplasticity - the fact that connections within the brain can reorganise due to changes in behaviour and environment.

Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology, University of Oxford, said: “The way the results are shown graphically makes them look dramatic, but the effects are likely to be very small – I suspect differences within each gender are considerably larger than differences between genders. In addition, we know very little about who the people were in the study."

 


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