- How do the gender brain differences affect an individual’s intellectual life?
- What are the popular myths about gender brain differences?
- Male vs female brain – which is bigger?
While there are real gender brain differences, some self-appointed experts in the present era tend to mix up true brain differences with the fictitious ones. Sometimes, they endorse sex differences which once used to be recognized by neuroscience, but modern research has proven them to be spurious.
Worse still, the mythmakers go to the extent of linking the supposed brain differences between the sexes with behavioural variations in ways that are wholly unsupported by evidence. This type of specious logic is sometimes preached to advance particular policies and politics.
Christian Jerret (2014) in her book Great Myths of the Brain, collects, investigates, elaborates, and tries to refute the popular myths about the human brain, particularly focusing on gender brain differences. She also talks about the differences between male and female brain facts. According to the author, there are notable structural differences in the brains of men and women.
Popular Myths about Gender Brain Differences:
Female Brain Functioning is More Balanced and Global:
The myth “Female brain functioning is more balanced and global than that of male” was put forth by JohnGary in his mega-selling book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”. According to him, a male brain uses a specific part of a single hemisphere to accomplish a task and that of a female uses both the hemispheres for multiple tasks.
The Truth: The Gary’s myth about men’s brain’s activity to be more localized and one-sided was refuted by Mikkel Wallentin at the University of Arhus who said, “The alleged sex-related difference of the corpus callosum size is a myth”. Another study in 2012 found a stronger inter-hemispheric connectivity between the frontal lobes in males than females!
Females Have Hyperactive Mirror Neurons and Show Heightened Sensitivity to Other People’s Pain:
Though there is modest evidence that women are somewhat better at processing emotions, it was misinterpreted by Louann Brizendine, the author of “The Female Brain” when he said, “Females are especially better at emotional mirroring and that they have heightened sensitivity to other people’s pain.” According to her, it is because women have a greater number of mirror neurons.
The Truth: Louann Brizendine’s claim was refuted by Cordelia Fine who, in her book “The Delusions of Gender, The Real Science Behind Sex Differences”, says, “There is no evidence about mirror neurons being more plentiful or more active in the brains of women compared with women”.
Males and Females Brains are Differently Wired Up:
A study published by the Journal PNAS late in 2013 claimed, “Males’ and females’ brains are really wired up differently”. The researchers led by Ragini Verma at the University of Pennsylvania made use of diffusion tensor imaging technology to create the brain wiring maps of 949 individuals aged between 8 and 22. According to them, their investigation found fundamentally different connectivity in men and women.
The men’s brains appeared to be having more connectivity within each hemisphere while that of women had more connectivity across the two hemispheres. On the basis of their findings, they tried to explain behavioural differences between the genders, such as that men are good at map reading and sports, while women are good at multitasking and are intuitive thinkers.
The way the researchers arrived at the idea that their results backed up gender stereotypes about map reading, etc. is based on a logical mistake, called “reverse inference”.
The Independent later came up with a report giving a misinterpretation of the above research. It announced, “The wired differences between man and woman brains explain why females are better at map reading”.
Truth: Though the brain wiring differences do exist between the sexes, and they may be statistically significant, they are not actually substantive. These actually are average differences with a lot of overlapping. A man’s brain may be wired up more like an average woman than another man.
There do exist notable differences in the average brain of a woman and the average brain of a man. For example, women usually have smaller brain than men, even taking into account their smaller body size.