Friday, March 4, 2016
How Different is a Woman’s Brain from a Man’s?
How Different is a Woman’s Brain from a Man’s?
A woman is a lot different from a man in terms of physical appearance and behavior. The differences are part of the natural evolution of human beings; as males and females got adapted for different roles played by them. The differences are also due to the effects of hormones as well as sociocultural factors. The current article focuses on the differences between the brains of men and women, both in terms of structure as well as functions.
Men have a larger brain volume as compared to women. Even after taking into consideration the fact that males are taller and larger, their brains are about 10% larger than that of women. Higher brain volume in men does not translate to the fact that men are smarter or more intelligent than women. IQ tests across large number of women and men have not shown any statistically significant differences between the two sexes.
The main difference between a man and woman’s brains is regarding their language areas. In men, the language area is predominantly located in the left hemisphere of the brain; whereas in women, language areas are located in both left and right hemispheres of brain. In a research detecting blood flow to brain while people listened to a novel, only the left hemisphere was activated in men. On the other hand, both hemispheres were activated in women. The language areas on right frontal and temporal lobes are larger in women than in men. Also, the language areas in girls mature about six years earlier than in boys.
These observations explain the better proficiency of women when comes to language skills. Females use language more when they compete. They gossip, manipulate information as per David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri. If there are more areas dedicated to a set of skills, it follows that the skills will be more refined. Women also use language to build relationships. Women pause more, allow the other friend to speak more, offer facilitative gestures.
Certain disorders such as learning disability or dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more common in boys than in girls.
It is not that women have all the advantage! Boys fare much better when it comes to mathematics and geometry. The areas of brain involved in math and geometry mature four years earlier in boys than in girls. Males tend to have much larger inferior parietal lobules, the area of brain thought to influence mathematical ability. Interestingly, this is the same area of Einstein’s brain, which was discovered to be significantly large. However, many researchers believe that the mathematical ability does not differ between the sexes. The apparent differences are because of sociocultural factors, such as less encouragement for girls regarding mathematics, lesser coaching/training and math anxiety among girls.
Women are generally more emotional and are able to express their feelings better. This is mainly because of their larger deep limbic system. Women are able to connect better and they serve as better caregiver for children. The downside to this larger deep limbic system is that women are also more prone to depression, especially during times of hormonal shifts such as after childbirth or during menstrual periods. Women are also more prone to develop anxiety.
Men and women perceive pain differently. Women require higher doses of painkillers for pain relief. They are also more likely than men to complain about pain and seek treatments for pain relief. The area of brain that gets activated in pain is amygdala. In women, the left amygdala is activated, whereas in men, the right amygdala is activated during pain. The left amygdala has more intense connections with other parts of brain that modulate pain.
Men and women respond differently to stressful situations. Men tend to have “fight or flight” type of response. They are either aggressive or run away. Women on the other hand approach the stressful situations with “tend and befriend” strategy. When faced with stressful situations, women first take care of themselves and their children (tending) and form strong group bonds (befriending). This difference is because of hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during stress in both men and women. Estrogen (female hormone) enhances oxytocin resulting in calming and nurturing feelings, whereas testosterone (male hormone produced in high levels during stress) reduces the effect of oxytocin.
There are also certain differences with regards to memory functions between men and women. Women are better in recognition of emotional expressions, especially negative emotions such as fear or sadness.
Short term or working memory is also better in women than men. This is partly because women are better in attending to more than one task at a time (multitasking). On the other hand, certain types of short-term memory such as visuo-spatial information are better in men. If a couple gets lost in a deep forest, it is the man who is more likely to find the correct route to safety!
Women are better than men in remembering specific dates or events, which explains why men forget the most important birthdays and anniversaries.
When it comes to disorders of memory loss, men are more likely to suffer from age-related memory impairment. On the other hand, Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is more common in women than men.
In summary, a woman’s brain is different from a man’s brain in many ways. These differences have been the result of millions of years of evolution and help women and men adapt to the different roles they need to play in family as well as society.
(This article was slightly modified and published in March 2016 issue of B Positive magazine)
Dr SUDHIR KUMAR MD DM
Senior Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Health City, Hyderabad
Online consultation: http://bit.ly/Dr-Sudhir-kumar