Monday, December 02, 2013

One of Those Things You Always Knew

Male and Female Brains Wired
Differently, Scans Reveal (Guardian)

Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark difference exist in the wiring of male and female brains.

Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women's brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men's brains, where the connections were typically stronger between front and back regions.

Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men's brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women's for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

'If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there's a task that involves doing both of these things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do these better,' Verma said. 'Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved—they will listen more.'

She added: 'I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.'

The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Verma's team used a technique caused diffusion tensor imaging to map neural connections in the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged eight to 22. The neural connections are much like a road system over which the brain's traffic travels.

The scans showed greater connectivity between the left and right sides of the brain in women, while the connections in men were mostly confined to individual hemispheres. The only region where men had more connections between right and left sides of the brain was in the cerebellum, which plays a vital role in motor control. 'If you want to learn how to ski, it's the cerebellum that has to be strong,' Verma said. Details of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds.

'It's quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,' Ruben Gur, a co-author in the study, said in a statement. 'Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex-related.'


Anonymous desertfisher said...

This is a very interesting finding in neuroscience. My question is around the transition and differentiation from ages 14-17. What trigger the sexual difference in the neural connections, the female apparently more integrated in maximizing the "functions" of the brain than the male? My hunch is it could be a combo of biological factors including nutritional as well as sociocultural ones like reading habits in the family or any group structure or mechanical/technical works or athletic habits.

8:59 am, December 03, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding of the development of neurological pathways in the brain was that these were still developing into the early 20's.

Is it really so surprising that they found these results? My understanding has been that the more a pathway is used the more strongly it develops. It is well understood that much of our gender difference is socially constructed and reinforced by societal expectation. Boys are largely encouraged into activities which develop the neural pathways this research found them to have, and girls likewise.

I'd also like to say here that I write this as the married partner of 16+ years of someone who was diagnosed as transgender 8 years into our marriage, had gender reassignment surgery some 4+ years ago, and to whom I remain married. That the medics constantly try to operate and find reasons for clinging to a dualistic mindset about gender is a nonsense. Gender, like sexuality, is far more polyvalent and fluid than the simple male/female, gay/straight. And yes, of course, I write from my own situatedness within the context of a life where these have all completely been broken down.

9:50 pm, December 04, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thank you so much for your comment. I hope it is not long before all those dreadful dualisms are gone. I noticed in the paper the other day that Germany has stopped the mandatory assigning of gender. Definitely a step in the right direction.

10:29 pm, December 04, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree that gender is more a social construct than something elemental to our natures. I suspect that gender is more of a performance as the philosopher,Judith Butler, has proposed.
I recently watched the documentary Gen Silent. It was a very moving account of the struggles that older people in the LGBT community experience in the healthcare system. I would highly recommend it. Kevin

1:22 pm, December 07, 2013  

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