Are the brains of men and women really that different?

The differences in the brain between men and women are controversial in the scientific world. Dr. Michael Mosley BBC investigated for how much you really know about this issue.

How much behavioral female and male is driven by differences in the brain?

This is an explosive question the expert Alice Roberts and I have different views on the answer.

I think our brains, like our bodies, are formed by exposure to hormones in the womb.

And this may help explain why men tend to better do some homework (reading maps, for example), while women tend to do better others (such as those involving empathy).

But of course, there are also a lot of social pressure involved.

Meanwhile, Roberts thinks that these differences are largely false measure, that result from the way the studies and tests are done.

She is concerned that such claims can discourage girls who want to pursue science.

And that in a world in which women scientists are still a minority and that men still earn more than women.

So for the BBC Horizon program we explored the science and research that support our different visions. But what it makes us seek match.


One of the scientists who has most influenced my ideas is Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University.

He suggests that, in general, there are two “types of brain” different.

Are you empathize, you are good to identify how another person feels or thinks, and that systematize, who are more interested is to try to dismantle and analyze systems.

We are all a mixture of the two, but most of us are more than one type than another.

Men tend to be closer to the end systematizing, and women more empathetic near the end, although there are many exceptions.

But this is simply the product of social conditioning? Baron-Cohen believes that no, that exposure to different levels of hormones in the womb can influence the brain and subsequent behavior.

Some of the most interesting findings come from an ongoing investigation examining a large group of children who were followed from before birth.

At around 16 weeks gestation, the mothers of these children underwent amniocentesis test, which involves obtaining fluid samples from the uterus.

The researchers measured levels of testosterone in the fluid and discovered fascinating links between these indices and behavior.

“The higher prenatal testosterone was the children,” Baron-Cohen, “he told me were slower to develop socially. For example, they showed less eye contact to their first birthday. ”

They also had a smaller before 2 years and showed less empathy to reach school age vocabulary.

Moreover, Baron-Cohen found that being exposed to high levels of testosterone in utero appears to increase some spatial skills.

“Children with higher levels of prenatal testosterone were quicker to identify specific forms hidden in a design.”

Hunting and do several tasks at once

Other evidence of the differences between male and female brains are based on a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA ., which investigated how they communicate between the different parts of the human brain.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of 949 men and women, aged between 8-22 years and found some striking differences.

According to Ruben Gurr, one of the authors of the study, men showed stronger connections between the front and the back of the brain, suggesting that they are “better able to connect what they see with what they do, that’s what you need to do if you’re a hunter. You see something, and you must answer correctly. ”

Females, on the other hand, were more connections between the right and left hemisphere of the brain.

According to Ragini Verma n, another of the researchers of this study, “that can connect different brain regions it means that you should be good to multitask and may be better for those involving emotions.”

But as Alice Roberts points out, this particular study has drawn criticism, even if it is true that our brains are wired differently, that does not prove to be innate.

The human brain is extremely malleable, particularly during adolescence, and any observed differences may simply be the result of social pressure and the tendency to stereotype.

We reviewed Neurocell many fascinating studies that can be used to support the view of Roberts or mine, but what surprised us both is the little progress that has been made in research on sex differences in areas such as pain.

We know that women experience more chronic pain than men, but are less likely to undergo treatment.

We also know that men respond better to some painkillers (paracetamol), while women respond better to some opiates.

According to the expert Jeff Mogil of McGill University in Canada, this is because men and women process pain differently.

Until now much of the basic research has been done with male animals, but Mogil says that in the future new drugs designed specifically for men or women will be created.