Men and women are socialized to be pretty different in most cases (Barbies vs. GI Joe sound familiar to anyone?). And according to a new study, there are some pretty major differences in men’s and women’s brains as well. It’s a pretty major finding that could potentially open the door to a completely new understanding of sex and gender.
The study was conducted by psychologist Stuart Ritchie, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. Looking at a subset of 2,750 women and 2,466 men between the ages of 44 and 77, Ritchie and his co-researchers found several notable differences between men and women’s brains — most noticeably, in the brain’s cerebral cortex.
Science reports that one of the study’s most provocative findings was that biological females tend to have thicker cerebral cortices than males. Why is this an interesting discovery? The thicker the cerebral cortex, the more likely a person is to score higher on cognitive and general intelligence tests, according to Science.
Not only did women tend to have thicker cerebral cortices than men, but among men, the thickness of their cortices varied much more than among women. Science explains that these findings complement separate research on intelligence that demonstrates men’s IQ scores tend to vary more than women’s, though there is no major sex-related difference between men’s and women’s IQs.
Beyond the thickness of cerebral cortices, Ritchie and his team found differences in brain volume. Overall, men tended to have greater brain volume than women in the 68 brain areas the team studied.
Notable regions cited by Science were the hippocampus (the part of the brain largely responsible for memory and spatial awareness), the amygdala (this part is involved with emotions and decision-making), the striatum (which controls voluntary movement as well as learning), and the thalamus (the pain perception center of the brain).
According to Science, these results were not universal, however, and the research team also found overlap between male and female cerebral cortex thickness and brain volume.
Importantly, Science notes that the study did not include information regarding whether or not the people in the study identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s possible that some of the brains Ritchie studied are the brains of trans people, or people who don’t identify with any gender, but as of now that factor remains unknown.
Ritchie tells Brit + Co over email that because the study didn’t reveal why these differences between male and female brain exists or what the potential consequences are, he and his team plan to conduct additional research. Ritchie says they will “start looking at how these differences might relate to earlier factors like genetics or upbringing, and see what they might mean for people’s health, education, occupation, and other factors.”
The study still awaits peer-review, and additional research is necessary before Ritchie and his team can draw conclusions about how this information impacts our daily lives, but for now, women at least have cerebral cortex bragging rights.
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(Images via Pixabay + Pexels)