Men’s brains are said to be hardwired for building systems, aggression and sex. On the other hand, women’s brains are said to be more for emotion, communication and empathy. But is this true?
Many studies have outlined differences between the typical man’s brain and the typical woman’s brain. Fundings include women tending to have more grey matter and less white matter than men. Men also tend to have larger brains than women. And although these differences like these may help explain and treat conditions that affect the sexes differently, like autism and Alzheimer’s, it’s complicated.
Male and female brains are pretty hard to define. A study of over 1,400 magnetic resonance images from men’s and women’s brains found that only 6% were consistent with stereotypical male or female characteristics. In fact, from every measure from grey and white matter to interconnectivity patterns, most brains overlapped too much to be considered completely male or female.
Varying stress levels and hormonal influxes while in the womb, after being born and later on in life influence how areas of the brain develop. For example, playing action video games increases abilities in spatial cognition (recognising environments to find your way home for example) in both men and women to the point where the typical gender gap between them virtually disappears. This means that with the right training, men and women could have the similar cognitive abilities.
What’s more, the brain can transform within minutes between the stereotypically male and female form. For example, although the hippocampus of a male typically looks different to the hippocampus of a female when relaxed, when under stress, their appearances reverse. This means that from just plain appearance, it’d be impossible to identify a brain as male or female. You’d need to understand the person’s environment too- from stress to hormone levels.
What This Means
To conclude, describing brains as male or female is hard, given that absolute cases of both rarely exist and that our brains can quickly switch between the two depending on our environment. It’s easier to think of our brains as unique mosaics of both masculine and feminine traits. Rather than male or female, they’re intersex.