Are Male and Female Brains Really Different?

Valentine's Day: Are Male and Female Brains Really Different?

A new study reveals has added weight to the argument that gender is more cultural than biological. Along with just about every other aspect of real or imagined differences between the sexes, the idea that your biological sex will determine the sex of your brain—and so your behaviour, aptitudes and personality—has a long and controversial history . The idea that a man’s brain is “male” and a woman’s brain “female” is rarely challenged. The latest neuroscientific techniques employed to measure and map those brain structures and functions which might distinguish the two sexes are discussed in a recent special issue from the Royal Society examining the differences between male and female brains . But among the papers is one that directly questions the very concept upon which the others are broadly based , boldly stating that there is no such thing as a male or a female brain. One of the authors, Daphna Joel, had previously published a study of structures and connections in over 1,400 brains from men and women aged between 13 and 85, in which no evidence was found of two distinct groups of brains that could be described as either typically male or typically female. Brains were more typically unique “mosaics” of different features —something more correctly characterised as a single heterogeneous population. Such a mosaic of features cannot be explained in purely biological terms; it is a measure of the effect of external factors. This is true even at the most fundamental level. For example, it can be shown that a “characteristically male” density of dendritic spines or branches of a nerve cell can be changed to the “female” form simply by the application of a mild external stress . Biological sex alone cannot explain brain differences; to do so requires an understanding of […]