In the current obsession with gender, talking about male or our amazing female brains could cause outrage. There is even a term for this, neurosexism, ‘Neuro’ refers to nerves or circuitry of the brain. Though some scientists maintain that behavioural gender differences have nothing to do with the brain, others disagree.
Nirao Shah studied gender brain differences in 1998, as part of his PhD on neural circuits determining behaviour. He discovered some interesting trends that recent science now supports.
Data from animal research, cross culture studies and images of the brain reveal real differences between male and female brains. This disputed the long-held argument that behavior differences between the sexes are purely cultural and because of child-rearing practices or social conditioning. Scientists maintained girls prefer dolls and boys prefer cars because that is what society offers them, some even inferring that male choices inherently reflect a greater intellect.
Boy Monkeys like Wheels
However, a study of 34 Rhesus monkeys revealed that the male monkeys loved toys with wheels and the female monkeys preferred soft, cuddly toys. It would be hard to argue that the monkey’s parents had offered them toys to condition their choice.
Similarly, human studies found toddlers preferred toys of different types depending on their gender and at an age of 9 to 17 months when they did not realize their own gender.
Female Brains Communicate Better
Trends can be identified later amongst human subjects showing gender-based strengths. Women communicate and write better, perform fine motor tasks and can retrieve visual and emotive memories better than men in general.
Men, however, are better at three dimensional and spatial recognition, at short-term memory retrieval and at tracking moving objects. They can also throw things better (including tantrums!) and identify angles from the horizontal plane better.
Amazing Female Brains Multitask
Male infants as young as 3 months exhibit awareness of changes in their spatial environment and female babies respond more to faces and talk earlier. In fact, through life men orientate to things and women to faces.
Men also are supposedly better at finding their way without relying on landmarks as women tend to do. This supports the old adage that women can’t read maps and are not good navigators for a car trip. However, we can multitask during the car trip in other beneficial ways like keeping the kids busy, chatting, admiring scenery and many of us can definitely manage the navigation. Let’s not be defined by gender stereotypes.
Amazing Female Brains Powering Ahead
There is now evidence that the improved opportunities for women in society allow female brains to reach their full potential and even surpass male brains in spatial and dimensional areas. Practice makes perfect, as they say. Use it or lose it, certainly applies as we age, but is a truth all through life.
Brains can be trained to do whatever as neural links develop to support higher learning such as multiple languages and complicated reasoning and problem solving. It is not a valid supposition to say that women can’t do math or science. As a graduate in both, myself, I know this to be inherently false. And just reflect on amazing scientists like Marie Curie. It is just another way of men putting women down in a man’s world. Gina Rippon reinforces this idea of female empowerment in her book, The Gendered Brain.
Mental Gender Differences
Mental disorders also show a trend within the sexes. Women are more likely to have depression and PTSD. Men are twice as likely to develop drug dependence, ten times as likely for dyslexia, 40 per cent more prone to schizophrenia and display autism at five times the rate of females. Why is this so?
Brain studies shed some light on these differences. Different areas of the brain are larger in each biological sex. The thickness of the brain cortex is different, and the white matter cable is more crisscrossed in females allowing more connection between the hemispheres, supporting multitasking. So why would female and male brains be physically different?
Female Mice Shred their Nests
Scientists reason that this is because of the different hormones that flood the developing brain, and these hormones, which are chemicals, are of course sex based. Males have testosterone and females, oestrogen-based hormones. These hormones stimulate the brains to develop differently.
Literally, male and female brains run on different hormonal fuels, so this makes a difference to our brains and as a flow on effect, our behaviour. Each part of the brain is a separate module that controls certain functions, so it makes sense that a variation in size or structure of a module, alters the functional ability. Males originally needed to hunt and focus on prey, and navigate distances, while women guarded the home front and nurtured children.
Research on mice confirms this theory. Female mice stopped defending their nests and chasing after runaway babies when subjected to testosterone, proving hormones cause behavioral differences.
Further advances in science will reveal more about our amazing brains, the control centers of our bodies, and whether gender really restricts abilities. Our behavior is therefore part biological and part social conditioning. Neither one is the total influential factor. Most encouraging is the fact that our brains are more plastic or open to development of skills, than previous research suggests.
Keep doing brain gym! Puzzles, writing, debating, math; they are all good for our little grey cells to stay in tip top condition. Exercise the body and mind.The physical movement of the body can even stimulate the brain. This is a branch of brain gym kinesiology, used for all ages. Elderly people are being encouraged to learn a new language, to improve brain functionality.
Amazing Female Brains Can Do Anything
But for now, it seems, the female brain is slightly different to that of a male, yet in no way inferior. Females outperform males in many schools and universities and are now highly represented in the sciences, medicine and engineering. Society held us back for centuries but now girls can do anything.
Female brain wiring supports our strengths of multitasking and reading facial expressions and empathizing. It also explains some of the issues males and females have in relating to each other. Talking to a fellow is never the same as a chat with your girlfriend. They just don’t get ‘us.’ But while they single focus, we can chat, multitask and study astrophysics. Surely our days and lives are richer for having amazing female brains.
Photo source Drew Dizzie on Unsplash
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.