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The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

Posted April 05, 2012 9:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy
Pathfinder Tags: behavior brains Gender men thinking women

In the first part of this discussion, we talked about some of the perceived differences between men's and women's brains in regards to how they think and feel. Now let's look at some other functions that involve the brain.

Dealing with Stress

After a really hard workday, what do you do to unwind? Some behavioral trends show that men and women often handle stress in different ways.

(I do not advocate the above method...)

To de-stress, men tend to use a "fight or flight" strategy. To fight means to fix the problem, and work on it (and only it) until a solution is found. If they can't fix the problem, they resort to flight, meaning they isolate themselves from it by focusing on something else or on nothing at all. When a man goes to his video games, TV, drinks, etc., he is going to his favorite place of detachment. Mark Gungor explains this concept as the "nothing box" in his hilarious series Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage. Here is an excerpt video of the series from YouTube.

To remove stress, women tend to prefer to process their thoughts and issues outwardly and verbally. Since women tend to be much more emotionally centered, relieving stress requires dealing with that emotion by relating it to others. Unlike men, women aren't necessarily looking for either a fight or flight solution for their stress. Talking isn't necessarily done to fix the solution or to run from it, but instead is needed to relieve the pressure and anxiety associated with it.

Strengths for Both Parties

Brain differences may also be linked to a few other gender trends that we see.

Men have dominant spatial perception. They tend to be better at visualizing objects in three dimensions, judging speed, and estimating time. When navigating, men tend to use geometric angles and tend to be better at reading maps. Their independent, competitive nature also means they are less likely to stop and ask for directions, even if they are lost.

Additionally, men tend to score higher on mathematical problems and numbers. This is linked to men's noticeably larger inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) which is thought to control mental mathematical ability. Some might argue that this is why there are more men in engineering and math related fields, but there are many other factors may have a greater influence on this trend.

Women have stronger visual memory and recall. Because women tend to link information in the brain to emotions and images (visual thinking), they are better at memorization and remembering little details. It accounts for why women tend to navigate and orient themselves more often via landmarks. Their relational tendency means they might be more inclined to ask for directions than to keep driving and get lost like their husbands would.

(Credit: Shutterstock.com)

Additionally, women have dominant language skills (processing and communication) and fine motor skills (e.g. handwriting). This is due to the frontal area and temporal area of the cortex in the brain, which are more precisely organized in women.

To End

Though some would love to debate it, intelligence is a gender-neutral subject. Some trends in how we think and act, however, may not be.

The question about the differences found in these studies is to what extent they exist and what the implications are. Problems arise in relationships when gender differences become overemphasized (resulting in prejudice) or deemphasized (resulting in miscommunication and misunderstanding).

In my opinion, these differences should not be threats or judgments on anyone. Again, there is much more variation between individuals than between genders. But especially when it comes to communication and interaction, I'd like to think that much can be gained by recognizing and celebrating these trends where they exist, and realizing that they are complementary and beneficial rather than restrictive and limiting. Take this one study, which says that mixed gender groups (specifically more women) may correlate to higher group thinking.

In addition, exaggerations on gender differences are also a lot of fun to laugh at. Take the "Men and Women Think Differently" sketch from Brian Regan's The Epitome of Hyperbole or a section of Jerry Seinfeld's I'm Telling You For The Last Time as examples.

And since this is a relationship centered blog, I'd be willing to bet that the primary source of relational conflict and confusion across the gender divide is the result of a misunderstanding of these differences.

In short, acknowledging differences in the brain may be the best way for Martians and Venusians to co-inhabit this place called Earth.

Sources:

BabyCenter - Raising Boys and Girls: Differences in Physical Development

Harvard Business Review - What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women

Medical News Today - Sex Difference On Spatial Skill Test Linked to Brain Structure

MedicineNet - How Male and Female Brains Differ

Oxford Journals - Morphology of the Ventral Frontal Cortex

Other Stuff:

Youtube - Mark Gungor's Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage

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#1

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/05/2012 2:19 PM

I beg your pardon men don't ever get lost we know exactly where we are right here! Just don't know how to get to where we want to go. A lot of that is due to the women in are lives always telling us where to go. And them know knowing where that is.

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 9:16 AM

I always attribute a longer than usual drive as a sightseeing expedition or a " lets see how it will take her to ask if I am lost" scenario.

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#2

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/05/2012 6:26 PM

I challenge the scientific basis for your statements about male vs female brains.

I agree that "exaggerations on gender differences are .. a lot of fun to laugh at". These are, however, cultural differences afaik, not biologically determined sex-linked traits.

When someone steps up and says, your behaviour is determined by your gender, due to some physical difference in the brain, this is not, IMHO, a laughing matter. And your comment that "acknowledging differences in the brain may be the best way.. to co-inhabit.." is shameful and disgusting from where I stand.

From your own article linked above:

"The big question remains whether this is nature or nurture. On the one hand, boys, compared to girls, may have opportunities to cultivate this skill, but if we eventually see both a strong performance and parietal lobe structural difference in children, it would support a biological, not just environmental, effect,"

The jury's still out then? No actual data to support your assertion? Or should we just accept as fact something completely unproven, which is pejorative to women as a group?

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#3
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Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 1:05 AM

There was nothing that I could see as pejorative to either men or women in the article. The article states that both sexes have their perceived strengths and weaknesses. It also says that intelligence is gender neutral. It seems to me that you are projecting your own prejudices on the article. When you select a group of differences between people and arbitrarily assign a negative value to those differences you are not being fair.

That being said, I see nothing wrong with investigating the theory that men and women have differences, as groups, in the way their brains work. The electrochemical processes in our brains are influenced by many things including the levels of several hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. These last two influence the development and operation of almost all systems in the human body. These hormones control the development of muscle mass, fat storage, and bone density. There are biologically determined differences between the sexes in all these systems, Hormones even cause structural differences in the brains of almost all vertebrates, including humans, during early embryonic development. At the same time, the human sexual organs originate from a common group of primordial cells and under the influence of these hormones they differentiate into male and female variations.

Men and women are different. We acknowledge the physical differences and co-inhabit the world. Indeed many of us say 'vive la différence'.

Men and women also think and act differently. You acknowledged that when in your post, you said,

"I agree that "exaggerations on gender differences are .. a lot of fun to laugh at"."

If men and women thought and behaved alike, there would be no generally accepted 'gender differences' to exaggerate and make fun of.

How is it that you can see accepting physical differences as normal, while you say accepting that there are mental differences is "shameful and disgusting from where I stand"?

Perhaps you think that, accepting physical differences is also "shameful and disgusting from where I stand". If that is the case, shame on you.

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#5
In reply to #3

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 9:46 AM

Lapin,

The blog makes this statement:

"Additionally, men tend to score higher on mathematical problems and numbers. This is linked to men's noticeably larger inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) which is thought to control mental mathematical ability."

Now, you seem to think there's nothing pejorative about the implication or conclusion, that women have less capability in engineering and math, because of the size of their "IPL", and nothing shameful about promoting the acceptance of this bald conjecture as a physical fact, on a respected engineering site.

I submit this report of a global, cross-cultural study looking at gender differences in math performance in 493,495 students ages 14-16 from 69 countries. "Despite overall similarities in math skills, boys felt significantly more confident in their abilities than girls did and were more motivated to do well." and "While these measures tested different math abilities, there were only small gender differences for each, on average. However, from nation to nation, the size of the gender differences varied a great deal."

This study clearly indicates that a gender gap in math performance is culturally determined, not produced by physical differences in the brain. Indeed, it indicates that a gender gap in performance is fostered by social attitudes of the very sort which are expressed or implied in this blog. "Shameful" and "disgusting" and 'pejorative'... yes, I do think so.

And I will add, Lapin, that research in the 'biological determinist' camp has a long history of seeking out 'data' to prove that one race, gender, or social group is inferior to the proponent group, beginning with the infamous 'white brains are bigger and better' research. It is no secret that 'research' out of this camp is found to have been designed to produce junk data purely to support a political agenda. The research does not hold up under scientific scrutiny and/or cannot be replicated by more objective and better designed studies, but it allows the agenda to be publicly promoted for a period of time until debunked. I do not see any ethical difference between the 'genderism' and racism agendas.

This is a site where the weaknesses and shortcomings of reported research are routinely pointed out and objectively discussed, for all kinds of neutral (or not) subjects. The fact that CR4 readership is predominantly male, should not mean that we allow junk science promoting male social agendas to slip by without question. When it appears on an official GlobalSpec blog, well... so much the worse.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 11:07 AM

I appreciate the report you provided. I think a lot of the differences/trends we may see between males and females are cultural rather than biological. No argument there.

In fact, I probably should have steered clear of mentioning what the studies pointed out about mathematics and language abilities, because those studies can be very biased or culturally exclusive, as you say. This blog is intended to be about the science of social interactions more than anything else. And more importantly, as I said originally, intelligence is a gender-neutral subject.

What I wanted to establish from the beginning (note the disclaimer in part I) is that this blog post is not intended to be promoting an agenda or establishing gender stereotypes.

But, there are legitimate physical differences in the brain structures of men and women. And I think it's fair to discuss what implications (if any) these differences may have on how we interact and communicate with each other. I did not intend to claim the implications of these studies as hard facts, which is why I mentioned in the disclaimer "please take these implications with a grain of salt". I think it's a fascinating topic to explore, but it's easy to gather perceived implications that can make it hard to talk about objectively.

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#7
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Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 11:55 AM

cheme-w,

Using a disclaimer about agendas and stereotypes is, imho, meaningless, if the blog goes on to post material which is based on weak science and baseless assumptions of causality, and clearly supports agendas and stereotypes.

The statement that "there are legitimate physical differences in the brain structures of men and women" is based on data which I have not personally reviewed at this point in time. However, the inference that physical differences in the brains have a causal role in performance or behaviour is flawed and is not supported. There is a significant and growing body of research indicating that specific aspects of brain physiology are directly altered by the mental and physical activity of the individual in as little as six months. Over a lifetime of culturally determined activities, this might well amount to the appearance of 'legitimate physical differences' in brains of men and women. This clearly contradicts the deterministic (and agenda laden) assumption which you have accepted and presented as fact, professed grains of salt notwithstanding.

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#8

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 1:52 PM

I think it's interesting to see how many people get all uptight about the fact that men and women are different. It's no big deal and it isn't a slight to either men or women to say that they are/may be better at certain thinking processes or tasks.

From my standpoint that's the way we were made and it isn't a bad thing. The plan was for men and women to be better equipped for certain things. Women are much better at nurturing their children than men are. Men are better suited to do the hard, physical things of life to provide for their families.

Being equipped in a particular way doesn't make one better or worse, it just makes one different. It takes both a man and a woman to have a family operate in the best possible way. That statement will probably garner flak and maybe generate some controversy but the facts don't lie. Children do better when both the father and mother are around and intentionally involved with their offspring.

There are no hard and fast rules about how men and women operate. We are wired in particular ways but some of our reactions are due to training and environment.

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#10
In reply to #8

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 6:27 PM

Thanks for putting my thoughts and feelings into better words than I did.

Differences between men and women are not good or bad, they just exist.

This discussion seems to be caught halfway between the 'nature vs. nurture' camps. In the early stages of development, the human embryo is undifferentiated. There are primordial cell clumps that develop into structures that we recognize. Under the influence of hormones, some of these clumps develop into differentiated sex organs. Some of these clumps develop into bones, muscles, nerves, and even brains. But the changes don't stop at birth, baby boys and girls look the same in many ways. Their chests, buttocks, voices, and body hair are all very similar. When our children change during puberty, we aren't surprised when they develop differently. We actually value and enjoy the differences. Admittedly some more than others! We also aren't surprised when men and women have different muscle mass, bone density, and height. These differences are all caused by fundamental differences in the functioning of our biology, and they are all related to our gender.

Furthermore, these differences are all in some way useful. If the primordial cells didn't differentiate into ovaries and testis, humans wouldn't exist. If one of the sexes didn't develop mammary glands, how would newborn babies eat? You might say that women won the lottery on that one, because the hormonal changes caused by the developing baby in the womb make the development and preparation of functioning breasts convenient inside the same body. Besides, the woman is the only one guarantied to be present at the birth.

Society has no influence on the growth of facial hair on men, male pattern baldness, the existence of the menstrual cycle or even the development of breasts on women. Although, their final size may be influenced by society, and surgeons. And finally, there is no social pressure that can make women grow up shorter, than men.

Biologists tell us that they can measure differences between men and women, in the size and activity levels of certain structures of the brain. Differences in structure may cause differences in function, or may not. But, if there are no differences in function, why do these changes occur? Why is it "shameful and disgusting" to examine the possibility that these structural changes may have an effect on how we function?

I'm really not discounting the role of nurturing by parents and society in the development and teaching of children and adults. The way we are raised obviously has a major impact on who we become. However, I don't think that we can rule out any trace of biological influences on all of our areas of development, including mental development.

Why must we place all the blame for sex differences on the upbringing and nurturing of our children? For that matter, why are we talking about blame, or shame, or disgust when we are merely discussing the ways that the sexes differ?

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#9

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 4:53 PM

I know I'm going to get attacked for this, but a big issue that's come up recently where I live (Pennsylvania) has been a new law to ban texting and driving. While that law has it's merits, I'm just not to thrilled about the police enforcement part of it.

But now they are talking about passing a law here that bans cell phone use entirely! Although I've heard some states have already adopted this law, I think it's ridiculous. Not when phones now provide the services that they do. GPS navigation for one.

Here is where the differences between the brains of men and women come in...

I am firmly convinced that women cannot talk on a telephone and function the same as men. It seems to me they devote much more of there attention to that conversation than do men. And if they are considering passing a law about talking on a cell phone while driving, they should consider it for women only. If not for the fact they they function differently, just for the fact that they seem to always be on them.

But to be a little less discriminating, I would at least like to see more studies conducted with this issue in mind

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#11
In reply to #9

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/06/2012 6:43 PM

I would think that the people who are texting while driving automatically go to the front of the line for the 'Darwin Awards'.

As to the last half of your post, if the police leave the situation alone, there may eventually be more parity in the numbers of elderly men and women.

That would be bad news for some of us 'dirty old men' who rely on the overabundance of older women to get attention (wink, wink) that we wouldn't otherwise get, let alone deserve.

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#12
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Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/07/2012 3:31 PM

I'm not saying that it's ok to text and drive. I just don't like the police trying to issue tickets. To me it would be a better solution to make the public well aware that if they were involved in an accident because of the use of their phone that they would be automatically liable for the accident.

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#13

Re: The Brains of Men and Women - Part 2

04/10/2012 6:44 AM

That would explain it.

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