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Are There Differences Between the Male and Female Brain?

By Adam Hill
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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The differences in the anatomies and personalities of males and females are well-known to everyone, but only relatively recently have there been studies which show that there are substantial differences between the male and female brain, as well. These differences can be quite pronounced, and in many cases account for traits that generally apply more to women than men, and vice versa. The structures and systems of the male and female brain are basically similar, but the ways in which they work and integrate can be very interesting and even surprising.

It should be noted first that no scientific study has found a difference in general intelligence levels between the sexes. This is, of course, no small point, but the male and female brain do differ in character and comparative advantage. One difference that has been known for quite a while is that, on average, the male brain contains a higher number of cells than the average female brain, by about four percent, causing it to weigh about 3.5 ounces (100 g) more. The female brain, while containing slightly fewer brain cells, also contains a higher number of connections between the cells. These general differences may account for the different ways in which men and women process language, judge the speed of an object, and estimate the passage of time, among other things.

This suggests something that most of us know from experience, namely that men often excel in tasks that require concentration in local areas of the brain, such as mathematics. Women, on the other hand, are generally better at assimilating and integrating information for uses such as verbal expression. This is not just a common cultural observation, as it was found to be a scientifically valid conclusion in a study conducted by the University of California at Irvine in 2004.

Another difference between the male and female brain is the size of a structure called the corpus collosum. This is, in effect, the highway that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. The corpus collosum in women tends to be larger than that of men. This equates to faster data transfer rates between the hemispheres, giving women greater access to both sides, especially for language. Men, in contrast, tend to be more "left-brained," or logical and analytical, than women. It has also been suggested that the larger size of the corpus collosum in women could be responsible for the phenomenon we call "women's intuition."

The deep limbic system of the brain is another place in which significant differences exist between the male and female brain. This system is larger in a woman's brain than in that of a man, often allowing women to be more in touch with their feelings and those of others. This also results in a woman's increased ability to bond and take care of other people, as compared to men. Limbic system differences are probably responsible for the fact that women are seen as the primary caretakers of young children in every known culture.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1001657 — On Jun 05, 2019

I think it makes sense. With the vast majority of mammals the male does nothing for its offspring and the mother does everything. This is because the vast majority of mammals give birth to live young, so the natural role of the father is greatly reduced so both genders would behave and live differently. Even in primates we can see it's the females that are better at political game playing and more often than not in the animal kingdom, it's the males that cause the conflicts. Mothers fight to protect their children, while males tend to play no role or a lesser role as fathers, their interest is to sire more in most mammalian cases so it is at least plausible the brains evolved differently to reflect their needs.

In most mammals, the male is larger and stronger. Already disadvantaged physically the female would have to be more cunning, faster etc to stand a chance. Fascinating stuff!

By anon157397 — On Mar 02, 2011

This article seems to be getting a lot of vehement responses. I think it's important to keep in mind the scientists are looking for traits that correlate with being male or female, not how every man and woman will necessarily behave. It's sad to see so many people misunderstand that these things are just generalizations and that there are plenty of exceptions. The actual studies do not claim otherwise (apparently some people can't tell that "men are" actually means "more men are").

However, there are some misconceptions. Women, for instance, while possessing a thicker corpus callosum, are not more right-brained than men are on average.

Plus, most of us are a mix of both. I am good at intense concentration *and* have excellent language skills. I am not that much of an empathizer, but I'm bad at spatial sense and 3D object rotation as well.

Point is, yes the article is off for many people but all it does is note trends. It doesn't put you in a box; you were born the way you were born whether you read some article about sex differences are not. If you have the biological strengths and limitations of your gender you always had them, and vice versa for the traits of the opposite gender.

People shouldn't be concerned because an article noting mere trends cannot change the way you were born, and anyone who does not take the individual into account when dealing with individual issues is just plain stupid.

By Catapult — On Jan 12, 2011

@recapitulate, I would even go so far as saying "What a load of horse hooey!" to a lot of the information in this article, though I know that isn't a very scientific thing to say. At the same time, being a woman, I suppose my logical and analytical skills are just not up to scratch, so maybe I should say it anyway. What a load of horse hooey.

By recapitulate — On Jan 10, 2011

As a woman, I can definitely say I've known just as many men who were completely useless at "concentration in local areas of the brain" and being "logical and analytical" as I have women who could not excel at "assimilating and integrating information" or being less "right brained" than men. Indeed, the concept of right and left brain dominance in people has been much more questioned in recent years.

In general, I think a lot of these differences are complete nonsense.

By sherlock87 — On Jan 08, 2011

@anon42699, it's true than many of the "general" differences between men and women can be found to have less to do with gender itself than societal constraints and influences. For example, the fact that more men work in technology than women probably has far more to do with the fact that girls even today are discouraged from science than the fact that men are "generally" better at the thinking skills science requires. Certainly there are chemical differences, but they are much less pronounced, I personally think, than most people believe.

By anon42699 — On Aug 23, 2009

I have a ton of great, important information that shows the sexes' brains are much more similar than different, and the brain is shaped and even changed by life experiences and conditioning.

And a huge amount of psychological research studies finds that girls and boys and women and men are more alike than different and that there are small average differences between them but much greater individual people differences found for most areas.

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