Big science news of the week: men and women are different.
But not just any difference like the obvious ones. If the PNAS paper is to be believed, our brain structures are actually significantly different depending on if we were born male or female, thus affecting our thought patterns, decision making skills, personalities… things that makes us who we are. The major difference being that men’s brains communicate more between the left and right hemisphere, and women’s brains work more within each hemisphere.
Our brains begin to take on different characteristics at an early age, so that by the time we are teenagers, boys and girls become significantly different creatures. This makes sense as I remember how at a young age, girls and boys were not so different from each other. I used to be one of the guys, and being faster, stronger, and braver than all the kids in the neighborhood, I would lead them all on adventures and we would climb trees, sword fight with sticks, play soccer, bike and swim all day. Then once puberty hit, everything was different. I was no longer the strongest: as guys got stronger, my body got weaker. And not just the physical changes. I no longer could be seen as only a leader and a friend; complicated things like physical attraction and romance came into play. And as much as I miss the old days, now if you see me what you’ll see is probably a quiet girly type person that shows barely any of the original adventuring spirt anymore. Though I don’t know, maybe it’s still apparent :).
According to the paper:
male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.
If true, this provides physiological support for what the evolution biologists and psychologists have believed for years. In early human societies, men went out to hunt while women stayed in the village. For the hunters, the ability to coordinate action within your group, to see and perceive hidden dangers, opportunities, and lay of the land was what marked a strong and successful man. For the women who stayed in the village, being strong and coordinating action plans were not going to get them anywhere. Their success relied more on what I like to call politics. Inside the village, a successful woman is one who is well liked amongst her peers, have many strong personal connections, and is able to dissipate physical confrontations by using wits and not braun to solve problems. After all, the physical dimorphism between men and women made it so that men are much stronger, so it didn’t make sense for a woman to achieve her goals and defend her self through physical means. Thus, traits that allowed women to be more successful were those that led them to be more intuitive of other’s feelings and be better communicators. As the more successful people got more mates, (beauty is not everything but if they are good looking and successful it’s a bonus), more children share their traits. So over time, it makes sense for the male human brain to be more optimized for external perception and coordinated action, and the female brain for intuition in human relationships.
But of course, as with every research project, not every significant result leads to a statement of fact. There’s several possible issues including head motion and brain size that could affect the results. Though I did not do much brain imaging work through my neuroscience career, I do believe the physiological finding in the difference between connectomes is a significant one.
Yes, men and women are physiologically and perhaps mentally different. But this does not mean that we can’t understand each other. We still share the same experiences. We all can work to improve our reasoning and leadership skills. What we are born with helps gets us going, but as our brain continues to grow in adulthood, it’s our experiences that makes us who we are in the end.