The Differences Between Men and Women
Thanks to developing technology, we are in the new age of neuroscience research. What we’re discovering is that the male and female brains are wired so differently anatomically and physiologically, that it’s amazing they can even get along at all.
Male brains are about 10% larger than female brains by volume and have about 6.5 times more gray matter or neurons – sometimes called “thinking matter”– than women. Having more gray matter in the part of the brain that makes decisions and processes thought means one is better able to evaluate the rewards and consequences of one’s actions.
Although smaller, it’s all in how you use it. Female brains have 12% more brain cells overall, are denser and have more than 9.5 times as much white matter or axons, which is the stuff that connects various parts of the brain. Their frontal and temporal areas of the cortex are bigger and more precisely organized, allowing them dominant language skills. The corpus callosum, the big track between the left and the right hemispheres, is much larger in women. All of these areas of the brain where language is processed are used by females more then men to communicate, build relationships, solve problems and deal with the external world.
So, although the men may have more brain devoted to thinking and deciding, they don’t have a whole lot of brain left devoted to communicating when compared to women. I once watched a father and his grown son who had been arguing and not talking to each other go silently on their annual fishing trip. They had never missed a trip since the son was a little boy. They drove to their cabin, fished in the boat, cooked, slept and drove home, all while barely saying a word to each other. But when the trip was over, all was well between them. A couple of grunts, a stiff hug, and – that was it. They were good again.
Now, any female watching this would say, “What the h#$@!?” But for men, it’s all about non-verbal cooperation and communication. They helped each other unload, push the boat out, clean up, cook, all without ever having to say a word. If they were mad at each other to begin with, that ended as soon as they decided to work together. They really didn’t have to talk about it.
Women, however, may need to talk all that weekend over and over again, utilizing their much greater verbal skills to resolve their differences. This may offend some women who think I’m implying that they talk too much. But before you get mad, understand that the ability to identify and control emotions varies between sexes. Women are actually better than men at controlling their emotions. Sections of the brain used to control aggression and anger responses are larger in women than in men. Women are faster and more accurate at identifying emotions. Studies have shown women to be more adept than men at reading facial differences and tone of voice.
That’s why guys get in trouble all the time; it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it, too. If a guy’s trying to make up for some screw-up he did, he’s got to be all-in. The facial expression, body language, tone of voice, eye contact – all are being soaked in like a hawk by his female counterpart, and he’s probably completely unaware of it (since his brain is incapable of doing so!).
On the other hand, the amygdala – the “fight or flight” center, the alarm system for threats, fear and danger – is larger in men than in women. It drives emotional impulses and triggers protective aggression, meaning that men are more likely to be less patient and more likely to take physical action. It activates when there is a negative or bad response to emotionally arousing stimuli.
In men, the amygdala communicates strongly to motor parts of the brain, which means physical behavior is directed outward to the external environment. But in women, the amygdala is connected very strongly to the hypothalamus, which looks after our internal environment like breathing, our heart rate, body temperature, hunger and thirst, and intestinal functions. This may explain why it is mostly women who have stress-related illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome.
Unfortunately, the very specific area in the hypothalamus which controls sex drive is 2 1/2 times bigger in males than females (big surprise). Many men are accused of thinking with their “little brain.” Well, they actually do, except that “little brain” is more north and deep in the hippocampus of the brain rather than farther south, if you know what I mean…
So, what about monogamy? Is there a biological basis then for either gender to be more or less likely to remain monogamous? Although there are no studies out now regarding this, I’ve come to my own conclusions based on years of clinical experience and teaching.
Men may have a bigger “little brain” that thinks about sex (a lot) more and may be more likely to act physically on emotion due to their larger amygdala. But their larger gray matter that analyzes and decides rewards and consequences can override any impulse. They are definitely more capable of a conscious choice and not destined to be biologically controlled by the “little brain.”
Despite these differences in how men and women think and process information, we also share similarities. Women may claim to be more capable of multitasking. “Multitasking” in the most recent neuroscience studies out this year has been proven to be a myth. Neither gender can really do more than one brain-focused task at the same time.
In the few studies done on this subject, the results show that women have to juggle many tasks at the same time because that’s just the way life is – not by choice, nor by biological brain superiority. They have to hold a job, run a household and manage kids (one of whom is probably the dad) all at the same time. They set expectations for themselves to be able to do so, while men would much rather do one thing at a time – and are okay with that. Women’s ability to use language skills better and communicate may allow them to seem better at it, especially if their male competition’s main mode of dialogue is grunts and shrugs.
Either way, the differences in the brains of men and women are meant to complement and support each other. Neither is inferior or superior in such a way as to say one is better than the other in monogamy or multitasking, or communication. It may be a different road traveled through the intricacies of the brain, but the way we finally meet up in the end, men and women, is what makes our relationships so exciting.