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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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The Male and Female Brain: What's the Difference?

By Jonathan Bitz

Differences between women and men have been a hot topic of discussion for years. But can any of these differences be explained by looking at the brain? Are the brains of women any different from those of men?

Many studies have found that female and male brains are indeed different. In fact, more than 100 differences between male and female brains have been described so far by researchers.

One difference is brain size. Men's brains, on average, are larger than women's, by 100 grams. A possible explanation for the difference in brain size is that men, on average, are typically larger than women. But it is unclear what role brain size plays on behavior.

Another difference relates to how women and men use different parts of their brains for various abilities, such as the ability to talk. For example, researchers in Germany found that men with damage to the left side of their brain were less likely to regain their speech. On the other hand, women with left brain damage had less trouble with speech. The findings suggest that verbal abilities may be controlled by different parts of the brain in men and women.

A University of California at Irvine study found that intelligence centers may be located in different places for women and men. According to researchers, women had nearly 85 percent of their intelligence brain matter (white and gray) located in their frontal lobes. In contrast, men's IQ-related brain matter was found equally distributed between their frontal and parietal lobes, which are located in the upper part of the brain. Because men and women achieved similar scores on IQ tests, researchers concluded that men and women simply use different brain pathways to achieve the same result. This supports other studies which have suggested that women use different pathways when thinking and remembering. Also, IQ is only one measure of one type of intelligence in human beings. People can have intelligence in other areas as well, including musical, emotional or social intelligence.

With all this research, you would think that we could finally say for certain exactly what role the brain plays in differences across genders. But so far, no research has been able to do that.

Louann Brizendine, MD, author of "The Female Brain," has spent years studying gender differences. According to Brizendine, both genetics and the environment — what you're born with and what you experience — have an impact. “Together, nature and nurture mold an individual's — and a gender's — total health profile,” she said. Brizendine clarifies that neither factor, alone, can create a picture of a person's complete health profile.

Brizendine's explanation goes a long way. Afterall, in order to describe and link a wide variety of factors together by using just the brain seems difficult, to say the least. Sure, some evidence suggests that the brain may be responsible for many emotional, hormonal and psychological conditions. But there is a long road ahead in this most-controversial area of research.

What we do know, however, is that in terms of the brain, women and men are more the same than different.


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