According to an article written for Psychology Today titled “Brain Differences Between Genders,” written by Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., the differences between genders extend far beyond physical appearance and general character traits, comprising instead major distinguishers between male and female brains.
Much research supports this view. Scientists know, for example, that sex hormones begin to exert their influence during fetal development, and a recent study conducted by Israeli researchers which examined male and female brains found distinct differences in the developing fetus as early as 26 weeks into pregnancy. Using an ultrasound scanner, researchers were able to determine that the corpus callosum — the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the right and left sides of the brain — had thicker measurements in female fetuses compared to male fetuses. Adult brain scans have shown that this area might also remain larger in females.
Many more studies focus on this divide as well. However, according to a study done last year, which was the very first to search for sex differences across the entire human brain, most people actually have a mix of male and female features, suggesting that gender classifications in various situations are essentially meaningless. Meg John Barker, a psychologist at Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, explains that this study “provides biological support for something that we’ve known for some time—that gender isn’t binary.”
Researchers examined MRI images of 1,400 different people between the ages of 13 and 85, searching for differences in the size of various brain regions as well as the connections between them. 29 regions in the brain were identified to have some differences, including the hippocampus, but when they looked at each individual brain scan, they found that only a few people — between 0 and 8 percent — had “all male” or “all female” brains. Daphna Joel, a psychologist at Tel-Aviv University involved in the study, asserts that “most people are in the middle.” (source)
This study adds nuance to our understanding of gender, offering proof that, while differences in brain structures do exist between genders on average, when we look at individual brains, these differences are less substantial, with most people showing features typical to both male and female brains.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and of the 1,400 brains scanned, up to 53 percent showed a mix of male and female characteristics. As mentioned above, only between 0 and 8 percent were distinctly male or female.
It’s a very significant study which negates our traditional views of gender being completely binary, and given the number of studies which argue otherwise, it will no doubt come as a surprise to many researchers.
In response to the study, scientist Bruce McEwen at the Rockefeller University in New York remarked to New Scientist that we “are beginning to realise the complexity of what we have traditionally understood to be ‘male’ and ‘female’, and this study is the first step in that direction. I think it will change peoples’ minds.”
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Lisa Eliot, a neuroscientist at Chicago Medical School in Illinois, stated of the study that “nobody has had a way of quantifying this before. Everything they’ve done here is new.”
Gender Myths and Cultural Expectations.
“We separate girls and boys, men and women all the time. It’s wrong, not just politically, but scientifically – everyone is different.”
– Daphna Joel, a psychologist at Tel-Aviv University
“We need to start thinking a lot more carefully about how much weight we give to gender as a defining feature of human beings, and stop asking for it in situations where it simply isn’t relevant.”
– Meg John Barker, a psychologist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK
While we have come a long way towards establishing gender equality, gender myths still pervade every aspect of society in today’s world. The male obsession with sex is a commonplace in popular culture which not only diminishes the sensitivity and intelligence of men but denies the sexuality of women, who are often portrayed as disliking both sex and masturbation.
Stereotypes like women being gossips or men being better at math are other examples, but there are many to choose from. Throw in cultural expectations for how each gender should dress and behave alongside targeted advertising and marketing, and the problem becomes more complicated still. Gender stereotypes continue to persist, and for years scientists have been focusing on our differences (which do exist) rather than our similarities. Why are we so obsessed with our differences, and why do we view these differences as a barrier between us instead of something that can unite us?
“If a neuroscientist was given someone’s brain without their body or any additional information, they would still probably be able to guess if it had belonged to a man or a woman. Men’s brains are larger, for example, and are likely to have a larger number of “male” features overall. But the new findings suggest that it is impossible to predict what mix of brain features a person is likely to have based on their sex alone.”
– New Scientist writer Jessica Hamzelou, author of “Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain” (source)
This study also offers further compelling evidence that men and women are more similar than we once thought. The team analyzed multiple datasets which evaluated behaviours that are considered to be highly gender stereotypical, such as scrapbooking, taking a bath, or playing video games, and researchers found that individuals were just as variable for these measures, with only 0.1 percent of the subjects displaying only stereotypically-male or only stereotypically-female behaviours.
According to Joel, “there is no sense in talking about male nature and female nature. There is no one person that has all the male characteristics and another person that has all the female characteristics. Or if they exist they are really, really rare to find.” (source)
Interesting stuff, isn’t it? Who would have thought that our brains, although they do show some differences depending on your gender, are mostly a mix of both male and female characteristics.
Below is a related CE article you might be interested in checking out. We have many more on the topic, so feel free to use the search bar using phrases like ‘female gender,’ ‘male gender,’ and ‘gender equality’ to find more.
“Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain.” Written by Jessica Hamzelou in the December 5-11, 2015 edition of New Scientist Magazine.
All other sources are embedded throughout the article.
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