Men and women's brains are 'wired differently'
Men and women's brains are connected in
different ways which may explain why the sexes excel at certain
tasks, say researchers.
A US team at the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of
nearly 1,000 men, women, boys and girls and found striking
The "connectome maps" reveal the differences between the
male brain (seen in blue) and the female brain (orange)
Male brains appeared to be wired front to back, with few
connections bridging the two hemispheres.
In females, the pathways criss-crossed between left and
These differences might explain why men, in general, tend to be
better at learning and performing a single task, like cycling or
navigating, whereas women are more equipped for multitasking, say
the researchers in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences (PNAS).
The same volunteers were asked to perform a series of cognitive
tests, and the results appeared to support this notion.
But experts have questioned whether it can be that simple, arguing
it is a huge leap to extrapolate from anatomical differences to try
to explain behavioural variation between the sexes. Also, brain
connections are not set and can change throughout life.
In the study, women scored well on attention, word and face
memory, and social cognition, while men performed better on spatial
processing and sensori-motor speed.
To look at brain connectivity, the researchers used a type of scan
called DTI - a water-based imaging technique that can trace and
highlight the fibre pathways connecting the different regions of
Study author Dr Ruben Gur said: "It's quite striking how
complementary the brains of women and men really are.
"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."
Prof Heidi Johansen-Berg, a UK expert in neuroscience at the
University of Oxford, said the brain was too complex an organ to be
able to make broad generalisations.
"We know that there is no such thing as 'hard wiring' when it
comes to brain connections. Connections can change throughout life,
in response to experience and learning.
"Often, sophisticated mathematical approaches are used to analyse
and describe these brain networks. These methods can be useful to
identify differences between groups, but it is often challenging to
interpret those differences in biological terms."
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