It has been suggested over the years that differences between men and women can be attributed to differently developed brains. Some think that men are better at analytics while women are more expressive, while others believe that such a difference shows that men and women are better at different academic subjects.
But a brain study appears to demonstrate that any differences between the male and female brain are highly limited. The study, done by the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, debunks the idea that the hippocampus is larger in females than in males.
What did the scientists do?
The researchers worked by looking at more than 6,000 MRI scans. The study did not actually scan the brains themselves, but instead conducted a meta-analysis which allowed researchers to combine the findings of many individual studies into one comprehensive reviews. The study looked at 76 published papers on the brain altogether and used the data to come to the conclusion that male and female brains are generally similar.
What does this study mean?
The hippocampus is an area of the brain located in the medial temporal lobe. It plays a crucial role in such things as handling short and long-term memories as well as navigation. Alzheimer’s disease effects the hippocampus early on, which leads to the disease’s well-known trait of memory loss.
Many people have stated that women have a larger hippocampus than men. This did not mean that women were smarter than men. But it did mean that male and female brains were supposed to be better or worse at different things.
For example, one website states, “Scientists believe that a larger hippocampus may explain females’ strong social skills. “ Meanwhile in men, the amygdala and the hypothalamus were supposed to be larger, which explained why men enjoys contact sports more, are more sexually active, and are more assertive.
Social constructs, not biology
But as Lise Eliot, the associate professor of neuroscience at Rosalind observed, “As we explore multiple datasets and are able to coalesce very large samples of males and females, we find these differences often disappear or are trivial.”
Consequently, these assumptions that the different size of the hippocampus results in different behaviors between males and females are incorrect. It is thus reasonable to assume that it is social factors rather than biological factors which are the primary drivers for much of these supposed differences between the two sexes.
For example, men may be more sexually active just because society has different standards for a man who is sexually active and a woman who is. The former may sometimes be portrayed positively as a virile and healthy individual, while a woman almost never is.
Other brain size myths
Furthermore, the hippocampus is not only the part of the brain which should be looked at differently. It was assumed for years that men and women did not have the same size corpus callosum and splenium. These two things are parts of the brain which helps enable communications between the right and left halves of the brain, much like a Wilson cell phone signal booster.
Meta-analysis of MRI scans of these two regions of the body showed that there are no real size differences between the female brains in regards to these two parts. The study argues that a simple look at the ratio of splenium and corpus callosum size to total brain size produces inaccurate results, and a meta-analysis is better especially since it relies on more advanced scanning technologies.
A new look at gender stereotyping
Far too often, people want to pass off societal differences between men and women, or between a black and white men, as some fact of nature which cannot be changed. But just as phrenology was debunked some 150 years ago, so too do these assistants shows that common assumptions about brain size are mistaken.
As Dr. Eliot noted, “Many people believe there is such a thing as a ‘male brain’ and a ‘female brain.’ But when you look beyond the popularized studies — at collections of all the data — you often find that the differences are minimal.”
Men are not alien creatures from Mars, nor are women alien creatures from Venus. And it will be better when society can properly understand their brains and not fall back to tradition or nature to defend the normal stereotypes.