Are men and women wired differently?

The belief that men and women think in completely different ways appears to have been confirmed by a new study at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. Researchers scanned the brains of 428 men and 521 women using diffusion tensor imaging to map neural connections.

It was found that while female brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, the connections in their male counterparts were usually stronger between the front and back regions.

When both sexes were asked to perform tasks, men were more proficient at cycling, navigating, spatial processing and sensori-motor speed. Meanwhile, women excelled at multitasking, attention, memory for words and faces, and social cognition.

Lead author Dr Ruben Gur said in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the differences were striking.

"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," he added.

However Dr Sophie Scott, Society member and Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London has suggested caution over the findings:

"The study has been widely reported to show differences in the ways that male and female brains are ‘wired’, but the study is somewhat more ambiguous than this: not only do they fail to consider experiential differences that might underlie this variation, they do not report any behavioural data to support these differences.

"Furthermore, the authors do not report the variation in brain connectivity associated with age, which would seem to be important as their participants were aged between 8-22 years, a period of great brain development. This means that it’s hard to put the differences into context: for example Cathy Price has found, with functional imaging, that age (in adults) has a bigger effect on brain activity patterns than sex."

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