Brain Anatomy Research Raises Questions About Male, Female Minds (VIDEO)

Many people admit they're baffled by the opposite sex. While we might perceive differences between how the sexes behave and think, are there actual differences between the male and female brain?

To learn more about the human brain, I stopped by the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University to speak with neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot. She authored the controversial book "Pink Brain, Blue Brain."

Hear what she had to say by watching the video above and/or clicking the link below for a full transcript. Don't forget to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

JACQUELINE HOWARD: Hey everyone. Jacqueline Howard here. You know the saying, men are from Mars, women are from Venus? So cliched. Over the ages, people have come up with all kinds of ways they think the sexes are different -- from men being better at math, to women having better memory. But are there really differences between the male and female brain? What does the science say? Well, I'm here to pick the brain of neuroscientist Dr. Lise Eliot. To begin with, let’s look at the anatomy. Can we see differences in a male and female brain?

DR. LISE ELIOT: The answer is absolutely not. Male brains are larger than female brains but only about 10 or 12 percent. So you know if you had a couple of steaks on your plate, it’ll be hard to tell if one was 10 or 12 percent different.

JH: But on a microscopic level, there is one teeny, tiny difference. It’s a cell cluster in the hypothalamus of the lower brain, right there, called INAH3 -- it’s about twice the size in men compared to in women.

LE: We think it has something to do with reproduction, but it's really not clear at this time what that structure does.

JH: How much of the way we use our brains is influenced by nature and how much by nurture?

LE: What are the roles of nature and nurture in creating gender differences? That is the million dollar question. So it’s always tempting when talking about the nature, nurture issue to just divide it up quantitatively, x-percent nature, y-percent nurture, but you know what, it’s impossible to do.

JH: Huh. Well, there has been the idea that males and females use different hemispheres of the brain predominantly. The way each side of our brain functions is called cerebral lateralization. For instance, spatial abilities, face recognition, visual imagery and even music all fall under the right hemisphere, sometimes more associated with men. The left hemisphere includes reasoning, critical thinking, and language, sometimes more associated with women. But...

LE: Almost everybody has the same asymmetry. So, something like 97 percent of people are left-hemisphere dominant. There doesn’t turn out to be any meaningful difference between men and women in terms of left or right-hemisphere dominance.

JH: Interesting because during child development girls generally speak earlier than boys. And then, is it true that females have better memory?

LE: It depends what kind of memory and like with all these sex differences, because there are dozens of sex differences, it’s a very small effect so women yes have a little bit better verbal memory than men.

JH: What about math -- do the males win this round?

LE: The stereotype is that men are better at math, but average performance, there is no difference anymore between high school girls and boys in math performance.

JH: Well, what about sex and relationships? Is that hardwired in the sense that women and men view them differently?

LE: Well of course the stereotype is that they do. That women want commitment and men want casual sex, but I think the reality’s quite different. And just judging by what people are looking for in a mate, there was a large international study that asked young adults what their top criteria were and almost all, both males and females, put kindness and intelligence at the top of the list and attractiveness. So most people do want a long-term committed relationship and they’re looking for the same qualities.

JH: Seems like we’re just not that different after all. As you can see, we’re pretty complex creatures -- especially when it comes to the way we think and process the world. But what are your thoughts on the brain? You know the drill, talk nerdy to me!

See all Talk Nerdy to Me posts.



The Brain As Art