The differences between men and women’s learning, social, sexual, skills and behavior has been heavily researched and debated for decades. What are the real gender differences locked inside our skulls and how do they affect our day-to-day lives? A new video produced by BrainCraft, a psychology and neuroscience series written and hosted by Vanessa Hill, an Australian science communicator, delves into the details on brains of male versus females.
The male and female brains look identical when cut open on a table, but the difference in size and portion vary. However, it isn’t known if that is developed because certain areas are exercised more thanks to society’s gender roles. If each brain is examined in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, which takes images of the inside of the body, there are slightly larger and denser areas.
For example, women have larger corpus callosums, the area of the brain responsible for connecting the right and left hemispheres and for facilitating communication. Researchers have even found people with gender identity disorder successfully align with their gender identified differences. People who were biologically born male have larger corpus callosums just like a female, but people born as biological females have smaller corpus callosums. Inside a man’s brain, on the other hand, lies a larger and denser left hippocampus, which is responsible for memory forming, organizing, and storing information.
Gender roles formed by the environment may control the size and density of certain brain areas more than natural development. By the age 2 to 3, children are able to correctly label themselves and others by genders, according to the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience. It’s no surprise that when a girl is given a doll and a boy is given a plastic tool kit, they will take on the roles of nurturing and building and forcibly exercise and reinforce the regions of the brain that control each of their gender roles.
When female high school students are required to report their gender before taking a math test, they test 33 percent worse than female students who were asked to report their gender after the test. The gender roles play a large role in the brain and misconceptions that girls’ brains are designed to perform well at math or science, so it shouldn’t be exercised. When, in truth, neither two male brains are alike nor are women's, which is why Hill concludes there shouldn’t be as much emphasis and investment into the differences when we can ultimately control the brain development.
Cambridge University set out with the immense task of reviewing 20 years of neuroscience research and studies of thousands of brains throughout the two decades in order to evaluate the differences between male and female brains and published their findings this year. They found that, yes, males do have an overall larger brain volume than women, but males also have larger skulls and bodies in general. It mattered more where the brain was densest, which played a larger role for investigating psychiatric conditions, with certain ones being more prevalent in males than females.
“Although these very clear sex differences in brain structure may reflect an environmental or social factor, from other studies we know that biological influences are also important, including prenatal sex steroid hormones (such as foetal testosterone) as well as sex chromosome effects,” the study’s co-author Simon Baron-Cohe, a professor in the department of psychiatry said in a press release. “Such influences need to be teased out, one by one.”