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Brain wiring differs between genders

Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013

FACE OFF: Stereotypes may be harsh, but a new study says there could be some truth to some of them.

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Women can't parallel park and men can't communicate with emotional intelligence. These common stereotypes get used as ammunition in the so-called battle between the sexes.

But, a new study by the University of Pennsylvania provides support for these (often unfair) standards.

Previous studies have looked at brain size; men's tend to be around 10 per cent bigger than women's, and composition; men have more white matter in their brains, which is linked to motor skills and the networking of process centres in the brain, while women have more grey matter, which is linked to sensory perception and processing skills such as seeing and hearing, emotions, and speech. Other studies however, have contradicted this finding.

Nurture, as well as nature, is also known to play a part, affecting the way we act.

But, little research has been done on the way our brains fire and wire differently.

This latest study, to be published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, has discovered unique sex differences in brain connectivity.

The researchers used high-tech 3D scanners to trace nerve fibre connections in 949 healthy individuals, aged eight to 22.

Interestingly, the connectivity of young girls and boys was similar, but by the time of adolescence, the changes become marked. By the time of adulthood, the differences are considerable.

The male brain showed stronger connections within one hemisphere, whereas the female brain tended to work more across both hemispheres.

The results suggest that male brains are structured for perception and co-ordinated action, the study's authors said, whereas females are designed for communication between the analytical and intuitive parts of the brain.

"Connectivity in females would facilitate integration of the analytical and sequential reasoning modes of the left hemisphere with the spatial, intuitive processing of information of the right hemisphere," the authors said. While connectivity in males "would confer an ef?cient system for co-ordinated action".

Additional cognitive tests by the researchers found "the females outperforming males on attention, word and face memory, and social cognition tests and males performing better on spatial processing and motor and sensorimotor speed."

It has long been hypothesised that behavioural differences between men and women have developed to be complementary and create harmonious social structures and procreation.

Indeed, in her best-selling book The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine says that while there are always exceptions we shouldn't be afraid of acknowledging biological differences. "The fear of discrimination based on difference runs deep, and for many years assumptions about sex differences went scientifically unexamined for fear that women wouldn't be able to claim equality with men," she writes. "But pretending that women and men are the same, [does] a disservice to both men and women ... It also ignores the different ways that they process thoughts and therefore perceive what is important."

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The authors of the University of Pennsylvania study concluded that their findings support the idea that there are developmental neural "substrates" behind this (stereotypical) behavioral complementarity between the sexes.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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