The recent study which “confirms” the differences between male and female brains has been roundly criticised by neuroscientists. However, there are some genuine differences that cannot be denied.
Unless you’ve been trapped in a lead-lined sensory-deprivation chamber this week, you’ve probably heard about the recent study that “confirms” the differences between the brains of men and women. Confirmed is in inverted commas because it’s very easy to “confirm” even the most surreal of notions with brain imaging techniques. As is often the case with scientific findings that get massive media attention, the science behind said “findings” is far from perfect. The study itself has been taken apart by the neuroscience community like a juicy lamb shank thrown to a tank of rarely-fed piranhas.
I won’t attempt to critique the paper here; there are plenty of people who have done that better. No, there is a lot of data already out there on the subject of male and female brains. However, the media coverage this study received implies that there is a great deal of public interest in knowing about the real differences between the brains of men and women. So what follows is a basic rundown of the more definite differences between the brains of men and women.
Male and female brains actually differ right down at the genetic level in quite a drastic way. Studies reveal that typically EVERY CELL in the male brain contains a Y chromosome. Quite alarmingly, female brains usually contain no Y chromosomes at all! This lack of a Y chromosome has many obvious physical effects, but most women still manage to lead normal, cognitively-unimpaired lives despite this clear deficit in the very DNA of their brains. Research into how they manage this is ongoing.
One startling difference between male and female brains is where they are found. It may surprise many, but male brains are found almost exclusively inside male skulls, whereas female brains are found only inside female skulls! Such an extreme bias in brain-skull association can’t possibly be due to coincidence. The fact that male and female skulls are also different and perfectly sized to house their associated brains is even more unlikely. Explain that with your so-called science, Richard Dawkins!
As previously mentioned, there is an established size difference between male and female brains. Male brains tend to be bigger overall than female ones. This is also true for male legs, torsos and skeletons in general. Human men generally tend to be bigger than women, and this is reflected in brain size. Some argue that this means men are more intelligent than women. Using that same logic, human beings are intellectually inferior to elephants and sperm whales. Certain people may scoff at this very notion. “You never see elephants or sperm whales queuing for the latest version of the iPhone!” the might say, which probably doesn’t prove the point they think it does. Sperm whales and elephants also never publicly criticise statements made by figments of their imagination, so they’re doing well overall.
Male and female brains differ in the connections they form. Most notably, the male brain is generally connected to a penis by various involved systems. The female brain lacks this connection and is instead linked to a vagina via a complex system of associations. The male brain-penis association seems to be more straightforward than the female brain-vagina one, but that may be due to the fact that the latter has a lot more bilge written about it.
It is generally believed that the male brain is better able to tolerate pain than the female one. However, the female brain is able to raise tolerance to pain when engaging in the process of ejecting a human from the pelvic regions. Thus far, no male brain has ever been recorded doing this.
Observational studies have shown that the male brain is hardwired to be paid more, occupy more powerful roles and positions, and be more inclined to kill things randomly, whereas the female brain is hardwired to get more harassment and oppression, develop worrying obsessions with physical appearance and to care more about other humans and sometimes kittens.
Or, and this may seem controversial to many but it’s worth considering, it could be that the human brain develops in accordance to what it experiences, and things it experiences and is made to do more often are reflected in the sorts of connections that develop. This would suggest that there aren’t actually any marked differences between male and female brains. However, this would mean that there is no scientific basis for all of our stereotypes and prejudices about what certain sexes should/shouldn’t do and they all stem from irrational or unpleasant cultural influences that haven’t gone away yet, forcing us to admit to ourselves that our preconceived notions about certain sexes or genders are just self-fulfilling clichés with no logical basis, potentially threatening our beliefs, our positions and even our identity.
And we can’t have that, can we.
Dean Burnett has a male brain that probably isn’t working as it should, as demonstrated by his Twitter feed, @garwboy