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Neurosexism: Is It True That Men And Women Have Different Brains?

Neurosexism is referred to as a false belief formed by the combination of neuroscience and sexism. It is an assumption which indicates that men and women differ in their character and behaviour as a result of neurological differences in their brains. [1]

If we notice the framework of neurosexism, we will find that as both men and women are treated differently in a society based on their gender, they behave in different ways which result in gender differences and ultimately, the whole concept gives rise to the so-called neurosexism. This proves that neurosexism is largely created by cultural and institutional forces hence, making researchers come out with different unproven theories that men and women have different brains.

Men and women have different ways of encoding things like experiencing emotions, solving certain problems, memorising and making decisions. As the brain controls all these activities, it is believed that due to the difference in the structure of the brain between the genders, they have functional differences. However, according to research conducted at Tel-Aviv University in 1400 brains including both men and women, it is very rare to find a brain with only feminine and masculine features. [2]

How The Brain Of Men And Women Differs

Men and women have different hormones in their bodies. In a female, estrogen and progesterone hormones are present while in male, the main hormone is testosterone. The hormones not only help each of the gender to develop in their forms but also help in the development of their brains.

The regions of the brain (amygdala and the hippocampus) in both the genders contain a large number of receptors for their sex hormones. To mention, the amygdala is an almond-shaped part of the brain which is involved in the processing of emotions and hippocampus is associated with combining the information of short-term memory to long-term memory. [3]

As these two brain parts are responsible for emotions, learning and memory, it would not be wrong to say that the presence of different sex hormones in male and female make each of them come out with different emotions, learning patterns and memorising power.

Another reason is that men contains both X and Y chromosomes while female contains only X chromosomes. Scientists believe that this Y chromosome in men has a gene which is responsible for developing the male characteristics. As we know, that the presence or absence of a single DNA can impact a lot in humans, likewise the difference in the sex-chromosomes in men and women make them slightly different from each other, both in the physical as well as the brain development. [4]

Fact Or Fiction?

Women are multitaskers and emotional while men are logical and rational. Likewise, there are several other pseudoscientific factors which differentiate men and women and make people believe that there are some neurological differences between them. These ideas have very little scientific support and require more proven facts.

However, there are a few noted differences between the brains of men and women. They are as follows:

1. Men have a larger brain size than female

The anatomical difference between the men and women brain reveals that the size of men brain is 8 to 13 % bigger than women. This often makes scientists believe that the difference in the brain size of both differs them in intelligence, behaviour and character.

According to research carried out by University of California researchers by MRI analysis, men have 6.5 times more grey matter compared to women while in women, the white matter is 10 times more. This difference in the volume of white and grey matter in men and women depends on the brain and body size of a person. Just because the men have a larger brain doesn't mean they will be more intelligent than women. Thus, it is the practice which makes anyone more witty or creative and not the size. [5]

2. Emotional memory is larger in women than men

According to study [6] published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, women have stronger memories in recalling a certain emotional event compared to men. The study says that in women, the amygdala is smaller and hippocampus is larger while in men, it is vice versa. The structure difference of these two brain parts in male and female is due to the high concentration of different sex hormones receptors which play a crucial role in determining the size of these brain regions. [7]

In another study based on neuroimaging research, it was found that women brain used to show more activity in the amygdala during an emotional event. However, we should always keep in mind that there's no such thing as a 'fixed female or male brain'. [8]

View Article References
  1. [1] Barres B. A. (2010). Neuro Nonsense. PLoS Biology, 8(12), e1001005. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001005
  2. [2] Cosgrove, K. P., Mazure, C. M., and Staley, J. K. (2007). Evolving knowledge of sex differences in brain structure, function, and chemistry. Biol. Psychiatry 62, 847–855. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.03.001
  3. [3] McEwen, B. S., & Milner, T. A. (2017). Understanding the broad influence of sex hormones and sex differences in the brain. Journal of neuroscience research, 95(1-2), 24–39. doi:10.1002/jnr.23809
  4. [4] Goldman, B. (2017). Two minds: The cognitive differences between men and women.
  5. [5] Haier, R. J., Jung, R. E., Yeo, R. A., Head, K., & Alkire, M. T. (2005). The neuroanatomy of general intelligence: sex matters. NeuroImage, 25(1), 320-327.
  6. [6] Canli, T., Desmond, J. E., Zhao, Z., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2002). Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99(16), 10789–10794. doi:10.1073/pnas.162356599
  7. [7] Hamann, S. (2005). Sex differences in the responses of the human amygdala. The Neuroscientist, 11(4), 288-293.
  8. [8] Schienle, A., Schäfer, A., Stark, R., Walter, B., & Vaitl, D. (2005). Gender differences in the processing of disgust-and fear-inducing pictures: an fMRI study. Neuroreport, 16(3), 277-280.

Read more about: hippocampus
Story first published: Tuesday, November 19, 2019, 16:01 [IST]
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