Male and female brain types a myth, they’re basically the same

Male and female brain types, described as quite different, is a myth, says a team of researchers from Israel and Germany – human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain and female brain.

A study published in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) concluded that if we look at the overall structure of the human brain, males and females are generally the same.

While specific brain components may have male or female traits, both sexes have both traits, with varying proportions that generally depend on the individual.

Male and female brainWhat we perceive as very different male and female types did not bear out when the scientists studied the anatomy of more than 1,400 brains.

In other words, the concept that ‘Men are from Mars’ and ‘Women are from Venus’, and little girls are made of ‘sugar and spice, etc.’ and boys of ‘snips and snails, etc.’ is wrong, a new study suggests.

Long held belief there are 2 distinct brain types

Sex/gender differences in the human brain are of great social interest because their presence generally has led us to assume that we belong to two distinct categories – not only in terms of our physical sexual organs and body shapes.

This assumed difference in the brains of males and females is used to justify different treatment of boys and girls and men and women.

Daphna Joel, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Science, said:

“It is a very popular belief, even among scientists, that brains have a male and female form. What we were interested in is looking at the entire brain. Even if there are differences, does it mean brains come in two different forms?”

Prof. Joel and colleagues took MRI scans of over 1,400 brains. They concentrated on the anatomy of each brain, and not on how they worked. They gathered and analyzed data on the brains’ features, such as volume or thickness in different regions, the traits that showed the greatest sex differences, and divided the scores into a predominantly female or male zone, as well as an intermediate range.

What are little boys and girls made ofThis nursery rhyme has been popular since the early 19th century in all native English-speaking countries. Has it contributed to our assumption that male and female brains are physically quite distinct?

Our brains contain unique ‘mosaics’ of features

In this study, carried out by scientists from Tel Aviv University, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland, the team claims to demonstrate that, although there are sex-gender difference in human brain and behaviour, our brains consists of unique ‘mosaics’ of features, some perhaps more common in males compared to females, some more common in females compared to males, and some common in both males and females.

Men and women shoppingSo why do more women than men like shopping?

In an Abstract in the journal, the authors wrote:

“Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain.”

Gender behaviour difference a popular theme throughout history

For thousands of years, humans have talked about the difference between men and women’s thoughts and behaviours, we have written books about it, made movies, and created scores of songs. Even famous scientists have been known to talk about male and female traits.

Albert Einstein, probably the best-known scientists in history, once said:

“Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”

Woody Allen, an American comedian and film director/producer, said:

“Men learn to love the woman they are attracted to. Women learn to become attracted to the man they fall in love with.”

Barbara Streisand, an American singer and actress, said of men, women and marriage:

“Why does a woman work ten years to change a man, then complain he’s not the man she married?”

George Carlin, an American stand-up comedian, social critic, actor, and author, is one of the few famous people to have commented on what males and females have in common:

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”

Isabel Allende, a Chilean-American writer, once said:

“A man does what he can; a woman does what a man cannot.”

Citation: Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic,” Daphna Joel, Zohar Berman, Ido Tavor, Nadav Wexler, Olga Gaber, Yaniv Stein, Nisan Shefi, Jared Pool, Sebastian Urchs, Daniel S. Margulies, Franziskus Liem,f, Jürgen Hänggi, Lutz Jäncke, and Yaniv Assaf. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). November 30, 2015. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509654112.