I am taking two sociology classes (Sociology of Gender and Sociology of Embodiment & Disability) and they have sparked my interest in the difference between the male and female brain. In the film Multiple Genders: Mind and Body in Conflict, several people who were born with ambiguous genitalia were raised as male but when they grew up felt internally more like women. Brain scans of these people apparently showed that their brains in fact looked more like a female brain than a male brain. What was it about their brain scans that signified they were more female-like?
Finding an answer to this question was harder than I had expected. After researching how male and female brains differ I found the evidence was fairly conflicting. While some research articles state that the influence of sex on the brain is negligible (Daphna, J., 2013) other articles argue that sex matters when it comes to neuroscience (Cahill, L., 2006). A large part of the argument surrounding sex differences in the brain is whether biological sex or socialization accounts for differences between men and women. However, overall there seems to be a trend towards accepting there are subtle differences between the brains of males and females yet we do not know exactly how these differences translate to behavior.
The differences seen in the brains of females compared to males are thought to arise from the effects of sex hormones acting during neonatal development. Some of the undisputed average differences in the male and female brain are as follows: males on have larger brains than females, males tend to have a slightly higher proportion of white matter, females have a slightly higher proportion of grey matter in parts of the cerebral cortex, females have a slightly thicker cortex, and the hippocampus and amygdala are on average larger in men (Costandi, M., 2013). There is also evidence that there are sex differences in peoples’ brain activation patterns during certain activities such as reading. Other evidence for sex differences in the brain can be seen in animal studies, for example male and female rats differ in their spatial navigation abilities (Williams et al., 1990). In summary, although there are visible differences between male and female brains it is difficult to directly correlate behaviors with these differences.
Cahill, L., (2006). Why sex matters for neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 7, 477-484
Costandi, Mo. “Male Brain versus Female Brain: How Do They Differ?” The Guardian. N.p., 6 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Daphna, J., (2011). Male or Female? Brains are Intersex. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 5, 57.
Williams, C., Barnett, A., & Meck, W. (1990). Organizational effects of early gonadal secretions on sexual differentiation in spatial memory. Behavioral Neuroscience, 104, 84-97.
Movie: Multiple Genders: Mind and Body in Conflict