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Battle of the Sexes: Male vs. Female Brains

September 19, 2017 | By Kristen Printy
Published in: Men, Women

Woman behind man hugging him

Have you ever found yourself stumped by the thoughts and behaviors of the opposite sex? You're not alone! Books are written, songs are sung, and numerous jokes are made about the frustration of understanding the battle of the sexes. Examining the differences in the male and female brain provides fascinating clues to unraveling the mystery.

The Architecture of the Brain

Abstract brain made up of words related to the brain

Male and female bodies differ significantly in overall size and shape, the brain is no exception. Differences in the size and structure of male and female brains offer interesting insights into how we think and behave. Ever wonder why women tend to talk more than men, or why men seem less emotional than women? The answer begins before we're even born.

The brain has a left and right hemisphere that work together. In the womb, these hemispheres develop differently in males and females though. For instance, female brains have verbal centers in both hemispheres with more connections between words, memories, and feelings. Male brains tend to only have verbal centers in the left hemisphere with fewer connections between words, memories, and feelings. This is one reason why women tend to talk more and have an easier time discussing emotions.

Another clue in understanding the differences between men and women is found in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps us form memories and safely navigate our environment. Female brains tend to have more connections in the hippocampus. This means women tend to engage all five senses and remember the events of the day more clearly than men.

It's interesting to note that male brains are typically larger than female brains. However, this difference in size isn't related to intelligence. The size difference only accounts for the difference in body mass between men and women.

Forget Black and White, Think Gray and White!

Man and woman working on project together

Our brains consist of two different types of matter – gray and white. Gray matter allows us to process information and action. White matter is responsible for sending that information to the gray matter and connecting different parts of the brain together quickly. Interestingly, the more gray matter a brain has, the more wrinkles in the brain. Animal brains with less gray matter look much smoother than ours.

Research shows male brains use up to 7 times more gray matter overall, while female brains use 10 times more white matter overall. What does this mean in the battle of the sexes? For men, using more gray matter creates a tendency to be tasked focused, usually with a focus on only one task at a time. For women, using more white matter makes multi-tasking a breeze.

Thoughts Go Where the Blood Flows

Five friends giving a high fiveEver notice how men and women solve problems differently? Blood flow in the brain is one reason why. Women generally have higher blood flow in the brain than men. The increased blood flow relates to levels of concentration and connection.

When a woman has a problem, she's more likely to think it over many times and consider the emotional implications. For men, the emotional connection happens briefly, followed by an analysis period, and then moving forward to the next task. Men will often engage in an activity completely unrelated to the problem during the analysis phase of solving the problem, while women are very absorbed in the problem during the analysis phase.

Scientists are careful to point out differences in male and female brains are more guidelines than absolutes. Thoughts, behaviors, and actions can vary widely from person to person regardless of gender. However, learning more about the male and female brain can help us understand some common differences that often confound us. Hopefully rather than a battle of the sexes, these insights will help us build a bridge between them!