3 December 2013
"Striking" differences between brains of men and women
by Will Parker
Scientists studying brain connectivity have found striking differences in the neural wiring of men and women that lends credence to some commonly-held beliefs about gender traits and behaviors. The new research is detailed in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
The study, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found greater neural connectivity from front to back and within one hemisphere in males. This, says study author Ragini Verma, indicates that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action. In contrast, the wiring in women goes between the left and right hemispheres, suggesting an enhancement of communication between the analytical and intuitive parts of the brain.
According to Verma, these connections likely give men an efficient system for coordinated action, where the cerebellum, which involves perception, and the front of the brain, which involves action, are bridged together. He adds that 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.
"These maps show us a stark difference 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," claims Verma. "For instance, 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."
The gender-specific differences in brain connectivity were uncovered using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to observe the brains of 949 individuals aged between 8 and 22. DTI is a 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.
Past studies have shown sex differences in the brain, but the neural wiring connecting regions across the whole brain has never previously been fully shown in a test group as large as this. Interestingly, the researchers observed only minor gender differences in the brain connectivity in children younger than 13 years.
"It's quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are," said study co-author 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 neurological disorders, which are often sex related."
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