News / Science & Technology

Men's and Women's Brains are Wired Differently

Brain networks show increased connectivity in males and females.(University of Pennsylvania)
Brain networks show increased connectivity in males and females.(University of Pennsylvania)

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It turns out that men’s brains may literally be wired differently than those of women.  Researchers say the differences could explain why the sexes seem more suited to certain types of tasks than their counterparts.  For example, women seem to be hardwired for multitasking.

Using imaging techniques, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found men tended to display neural activity in one hemisphere of the brain for certain activities, while in women the activity bounces across hemispheres.

“These maps show us a stark difference - and complementarity - in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” said Ragini Verma, PhD, an associate professor in the department of Radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study shows that, on average, men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group.

Past studies have shown sex differences in the brain, but the neural wiring connecting regions across the whole brain that have been tied to such cognitive skills has never been fully shown in a large population, the researchers said.

The study imaged brain activity of 949 people, 521 females and 428 males, using DTI imaging. DTI is water-based imaging technique that can trace and highlight the fiber pathways connecting the different regions of the brain, laying the foundation for a structural connectome or network of the whole brain.

Researchers found that in the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, females displayed greater connectivity between the left and right hemispheres.  Males, on the other hand, displayed greater connectivity within each hemisphere.

By contrast, the opposite prevailed in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that plays a major role in motor control, where males displayed greater inter-hemispheric connectivity and females displayed greater intra-hemispheric connectivity.

These connections likely give men an efficient system for coordinated action, where the cerebellum and cortex participate in bridging between perceptual experiences in the back of the brain, and action, in the front of the brain, according to the authors. The female connections likely facilitate integration of the analytic and sequential processing modes of the left hemisphere with the spatial, intuitive information processing modes of the right side.

The findings meshed with other University of Pennsylvania studies in which females outperformed males on attention, word and face memory, and social cognition tests. Males performed better on spatial processing and sensorimotor speed. Those differences were most pronounced in the 12 to 14 age range.

“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” said Dr. Ruben Gur.  “Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neuropsychiatric disorders, which are often sex related.”

The study was published this month in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

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