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How Gender May Bend Your Thinking

Updated on January 21, 2010
The Cross Section of the Brain
The Cross Section of the Brain

Why can't a woman think more like a man?

This is an article by Christine Gorman, published in Time, 17/07/95. This is an article I have always LOVED. So this is not a hub by me, I just decided to share it with you lovely people.

Why can't a woman think more like a man? That's the sort of question one would expect to hear from an unrepentant chauvinist like Shaw's Professor Higgins. But a growing number of scientists have begun wondering the same thing. Relying in part on advanced brain-scanning techniques, they have amassed tantalizing hints that men and women may use their heads in subtly distinctive ways.

Just last week a new study showed that in science tests teenage boys who scored in the top 5% outnumbered girls 7 to 1, while girls outperformed boys in reading comprehension. In general, men as a group excel at tasks that involve orienting objects in space-like reading a map without having to turn it so it lines up with the road. Women, on the other hand, seem to be more adept at communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Readings of mri scans suggest one reason: women seem to have stronger connections between the two halves (hemispheres) of their brain.

What's sauce for the goose need not be a problem for the gander, however. The relative lack of cross talk between their hemispheres may actually benefit men by allowing each half of the brain to concentrate on what it does best. Studies have shown that when men are confronted with problems that deal with spatial orientation -- a function that can be handled by both the left and right hemispheres -- they tend to use the right hemisphere only. Thus there aren't many distracting messages coming in from the left hemisphere, which concentrates on language. This cerebral division of labor could also explain why there are so many more male architects and chess champions. Their brains may simply be better able to concentrate on solving problems involving spatial relations.

Just because scientists can measure these differences, however, does not mean they understand their causes. Are men born with better spatial abilities, or do they develop them by playing sports in which eye-hand coordination is crucial? Are women innately better at reading words and understanding emotions, or do they just get more practice? If heredity and biology are important, though, then it's a pretty good bet that the sex hormones are somehow involved. For that reason, researchers have begun delving into the effects of testosterone and estrogen on the brain.

Although romantics of all ages can recall occasions when lust interfered with reason, scientists once believed sex hormones had very little effect on the brain. The chemicals' only target was supposed to be a tiny structure called the hypothalamus, buried deep in the brain, which is the seat for sexual drive and other urges, such as appetite and aggression. Recent research, however, has shown that the entire brain, including the thought-processing cortex, is awash in sex hormones, even before birth. The larger amounts of testosterone produced by males may predispose men's brains toward greater specialization of the two hemispheres.

This oversimplifies the case, of course. There are men whose brains are not especially compartmentalized, and women whose brains are. And even when a brain fits the mold, performance is not always predictable. Consider Judit Polgar, who at 15 became the world's youngest chess grand master. Her success does not mean she has a male-wired brain. Nor did Shakespeare, whose intuitions about women were uncanny, necessarily have female wiring. The variation between the sexes pales in comparison with individual differences-and shows how marvelously versatile a 3-lb. mass of nerve cells can be.


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    • NewYorker profile image

      NewYorker 8 years ago from New York, NY

      I know exactly what you're talking about. There are, and I kid you not, chauvinist parts of the brain.

      And he's right.. You organize everything, every piece of memory (which you try to never forget), but we just.. dump it all in the den!

      Thanks for the comment.

    • wavegirl22 profile image

      Shari 8 years ago from New York, NY

      I once worked with this man who had a serious brain tumor. . he was lucky that they were able to remove it. . before all this he was very quick to dismiss any female from the 'boys club' and was pretty much what we would call a male chauvinist . .but after the operation (I wish I could remember now what part of his brain was affected) he had changed.. he was calmer and more interested how others (even women) felt and saw things. . it was if someone turned on his sensitive side. . anyway he had done alot of research as to what had happened to him . .and I will never forget how he explained men and womens thinking to me. . .he said that the reason we see things different , men and women is that women in their brain thinking, compartmentalize things into many different rooms. . as they do in day to day living.. they go from the kitchen to the laundry room to the bedrooms and so on . .while men . .go straight to the den and stay there!!

    • NewYorker profile image

      NewYorker 8 years ago from New York, NY

      You're very welcome.

    • Ladybird33 profile image

      Ladybird33 8 years ago from Fabulous USA

      Very, very good read! Had to print it off! Thansk for sharing!

    • e-matter profile image

      e-matter 8 years ago from

      man, woman, dominant, submissive....*sigh*

      me personally, I'm just waiting for the day when Jesus comes and all this gender nonsense will be over with.

    • NewYorker profile image

      NewYorker 8 years ago from New York, NY

      Well, I agree. When I read this article first 15 years ago, I was so relieved to know that I couldn't talk to girls because I was stupid; It's because I'm a guy.

    • DaniellaWood profile image

      DaniellaWood 8 years ago from England

      This is such an interesting hub - every word intrigued me! I'm always interested in pyschology and am pleased to learn that my inability to read maps isn't because I'm's just because I'm female haha! :P Thanks for the hub, Daniella

    • NewYorker profile image

      NewYorker 8 years ago from New York, NY

      That's deep. A man is a woman turned inside out? I'm pretty sure you have a point there.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 8 years ago from I'm outta here

      This is an amazing read....LOVE IT and will no doubt revisit it...thanks. I'm of the opinion that a man is merely a woman turned inside out and visa versa.... Thoughtfully, Katie