03 December 2013

Male and female brains do develop differently

While not every woman is intuitive or every man handy with tools, neurological scans of young males and females suggest that their brains really do develop differently.

While not every woman is intuitive or every man handy with tools, neurological scans of young males and females suggest that – on average – their brains really do develop differently.

The research comes with a caveat: It doesn't connect the brain-scan findings to the actual ways that these participants behave in real life. And it only looks at overall differences among males and females.

Still, the findings "confirm our intuition that men are predisposed for rapid action, and women are predisposed to think about how things feel," said Paul Zak, who's familiar with the study findings.

"This really helps us understand why men and women are different," added Zak, founding director of the Centre for Neuro-economics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Connectivity in the brain

Researchers Ragini Verma, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues used scans to explore the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged 8 to 22.

The goal was to better understand the connectivity in the brain, Verma said, and determine if certain types of wiring are in good shape or like a road "that could be broken or has a bad rough patch that needs to be covered over."

The study found that, on average, the brains of men seem to be better equipped to comprehend what people perceive and how they react to it. Females, on average, appear to be better able to connect the parts of their brains that handle analysis and intuition.

"It starts when they're young," Verma said. "It manifests itself when they are adolescents."

To put the results another way, "men's brains are biased toward rapid understanding of a situation and how to respond to it, especially in how to act and move in response to information," Claremont's Zak said. "Women's brains are biased toward integrating information with feelings."

The findings suggest the hormones that begin to kick in during adolescence push the male and female brains in different directions, he said.

Why the man drives

Why the "It tells us why, almost always, when men and women are in a car together, the man drives," Zak contended. "His brain is biased toward being better at moving a vehicle along a road and going to the right place, the stereotype of the lost man notwithstanding."

Also, "women maintain and value friendships and other relationships better than men do. Men can have many friends, but on average we are less good at this," Zak said.

Verma, the study co-author, said the next step in the research is to figure out if people behave differently depending on how their brains are wired.

The study appears online in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

More information

For more about the brain, try Harvard University's Whole Brain Atlas.

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