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Do Men And Women Think Differently?

Do Men And Women Think Differently?

The answer is yes, but not as much as you might think.

Do Men And Women Think Differently?

Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 14:45

Alistair Jennings, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- Society does not treat men and women equally. And yes, we are physically different, but do we think any differently? Well, the answer is yes, but not as much as you might think.

Women are generally better at language tasks. And men on average are a little bit better at organizing things in space. But really there’s much more variability within the sexes than there is between the sexes. But that starts to change when you look at the brain. Here, there are clear differences. The most obvious one is that men on average have a 10 percent larger brain by volume. But, women have about 15-30 percent thicker cortical grey matter -- and that’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff which does the thinking.

So is it just a difference in size? Well, no!

Women’s brains seem to be fairly balanced between the left and the right hemisphere … whereas men seem to rely far more heavily on the right side of their brains. And it doesn’t stop there. There are differences in the places where we process rewards and emotions.

Take hormones -- men have more testosterone and women have more progesterone and estrogen -- but these don’t just act as hormones. These chemicals act as neurotransmitters. They change the way we think, even down to the level of DNA. Men have a Y chromosome; women don’t. Men’s neurons have different machinery to women’s.

Eventually, you start realizing that the question isn’t, why do we think differently, it’s why don’t we think more differently.

Part of it is because our brains are very plastic. They can adapt to tasks that maybe they weren’t especially designed for. But a more interesting idea is that maybe we’re using different strategies to solve the same problem.

Take IQ. Men have larger brains, so technically they should have higher IQs. But they don’t! They have the same IQs as women’s, and that might be because women have thicker grey matter, so they have more neurons – two different strategies to come to the same solution. And it doesn’t stop there. Our brains might be maladaptive: designed to specifically hinder us in certain things to keep a level mental playing field between the sexes.

And this becomes really fascinating when we think about mental disorders. Here there are clear sex differences -- women are twice as likely to suffer from major depressive disorder; men are 10 times as likely to suffer from schizophrenia.

These sex differences might be coming from failures of the machinery that balances the brain-power of men and women.

Perhaps the most amazing part of all of this, is that we’re only just beginning to understand these differences at all. We are really only just coming to terms of how the other half thinks.

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Alistair Jennings headshot, lab.

Ali Jennings has his PhD in neuroscience from University College London.