BEACON TRANSCRIPT – In spite of popular belief, a new study argues brains cannot be categorized into female and male. This is the first research to seek any sex differences that might be present in the brain.
Researchers discovered that sex differences can indeed be found in specific parts of the brain, but individual brains do not exhibit all “male” characteristics or all “female” characteristics, in general. It’s true, some traits are mostly found in women, while some are more common in men, but the study also found traits common in both men and women.
The fact that male and female features are actually mixed in the brain indicates that stereotypical gender assumptions – such as women being better multi-taskers and men earning more money – may be unnecessary. For the study, more than 1,400 MRI scans were analyzed, with the target being the brains’ anatomy and not their function.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study observed 116 regions of the brain, and compared the characteristics of 112 men and 169 women with ages ranging from 18 to 79. Researchers were interested in the brain’s volume, tissue thickness in various parts of the brain, and traits exhibiting the biggest sex differences.
The findings divided the brain scans in three categories: “most male”, “most female”, and those in the middle. Surprisingly, only 6 percent of the brains could be considered exclusively male or female.
The team admitted they couldn’t find patterns that set men and women apart. What they found, however, is that most people in the world are in the third category: in the middle of the two, enjoying a lovely mix of feminine and masculine characteristics.
Senior researcher Daphna Joel, a psychobiologist at Tel Aviv University, says the concept of a male and a female brain is rather outdated. The old theory said that male fetuses would develop testicles – or testosterone masculinities – in the brain, but that isn’t possible, given we don’t have two types of brain, but only one.
Instead, the study explores the “unique mosaic of features” found in each brain, which do not specifically identify with one particular gender. The differences are not just between genders – boys and girls, men and women; science says we’re all different.
However, the fact that there are just a few physiologic differences doesn’t rule out the idea that the brains of the two sexes might work differently. There is enough body of research to support the idea that sex influences our brain functions at all levels. So the gender does matter, but researchers need to figure out exactly how.
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