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Do Neurological Differences between Women and Men Exist?

asavannah's picture

Neurobiology & Behavior

Book Commentary



Do Neurological Differences between Women and Men Exist?



      The old time question of do men and women really think differently has been one very interesting topic to many people. The physical differences between men and women are quite obvious. None of us can argue with the fact that our bodies, shape, weight, and other physical features are not the same as that of the opposite sex. The psychological differences between men and women are less noticeable and are also very difficult to describe.  Though sex differences do exists, we often find ourselves asking the question of how these differences came about and how they developed.  Is it that men and women have learned to be different through our experiences or is it our biological inheritance that accounts to our differences?
      In the book “Sexing the Brain” by Lesley Rogers the question of if gender differences are more related to nature (genes) or nurture (experiences and learning) is raised.  She states that in the past people have taken up extreme positions on either one side of the spectrum or the other with some people believing that genes play a preeminent role while others believe that environmental and social experiences are the most important factors.  Since much research on the topic of nature vs. nurture has been done over time, we have come to the conclusion that both factors play an eminent role in a person’s life.  Roger’s argument is that sex differences should be evaluated at a more complete scale and that the interactions of genes, hormones, and experience should be taken into account when analyzing the development of a human being.
      Even though there has been much breakthrough when it comes to understanding the human brain, Rogers says that there are still scientists who believe that the gender differences are hard-wired or fixed into our genetic makeup.  In her opinion, the human biology includes our genes and their influences, but it is mostly shaped by experience. She says that there has been an ample amount of evidence that experience can change the biology of the brain with an example of this being learning.
      The genes that are located on the X and Y chromosomes, the sex chromosomes, are usually believed to influence the development of sex differences when it comes to thinking and behavior.  In history, women have been viewed as inferior to men due to the belief that women had smaller brains then men.  When research showed that the brain of a women weighed 10 percent less than that of a man, the sex difference in brain size was used to justify sexual inequality. 
      Men and women have been compared on the basis of intelligence and the way each sex thinks for quite some time. It had been believed that our brains evolved differently over time due to the fact that historically men were hunters and women were gathers. From archeological research, we know that in the past, men were generally responsible for the hunting of animals. Because of this, men are said to be better at spatial ability which is to visualize spatial relationships and to mentally manipulate objects. Many have also believed that men are generally more successful in math and science while women are better at languages. Tests have shown that men and boys tend to do better on standardized math test than women and girl but there have also been studies that show that females get higher grades in math. This fact negates the stereotype that men are better then women in math. I believe that it is not always based upon biological inheritance and that education should also be taken into account. In a school that is highly devoted to the education of math and science with teachers who know how to deliver this information will most likely have male and female students who are performing at the same levels. 
      Hormone levels in men and women have also been used as a comparative devise when it comes to the difference between the male and female brain. With women containing high levels of estrogen and men containing high levels of testosterone, it is said that each of these are responsible for the different behavioral patterns. Women are viewed as more nurturing and more attuned with their emotions while men on the other hand generally exhibit more aggressive behavior. In my perspective, I do not believe this to be completely true of all individuals. I have come into contact with both males and females who have in fact displayed the opposite behavior of what was expected of them. I feel that generalizations do not allow room for individualization. One should not say that any organism “always” does something; it should be based upon the circumstances. I feel that depending on the situation some women can show more aggressive behavior and men could show more of a non-aggressive side. I do still believe that science has helped us to understand different concepts better and to look at them at a deeper level.
      While looking at the environmental factors that play a role in the development an individual it is important to note that male and females have been treated differently willingly or unwillingly from the moment they were born. In the book it touches on the fact that it has been argued that “different environments are not simply imposed on girls and boys by the society around them, but that the child seeks to put herself or himself in an environment typically for a girl or boy” (Rogers 32). It is said that the XX (girls) and XY (boys) genes are what shapes our attention to certain things and is what ensures that a child will develop interest directed to what is typically accepted for their gender. In my opinion this can also be debated because there are some girls who like to play with trucks and like to play sports while there are boys who like playing with dolls. In the minds of many people this is not accepted because society has programmed us to believe that only certain things are acceptable when it comes to a particular gender.
      From the information I uncovered in the book “Sexing the Brain” by Lesley Rogers I have realized that yes indeed men and women are different but it is not fair to say that they are different only looking from a biological viewpoint. It is very important to take into account the environmental experiences as well. We can actively select and change our environments while at the same time we can be actively selected and changed by our environments. With that said it is important to know that our personalities are not always set in stone and can be changed over time depending on if we are responsible for that change or not. It is both our biological inheritance and our environmental experiences that are responsible for our personalities.



Book Cited:
Rogers, Lesley. Sexing the Brain. Columbia University Press, 2001.



Anonymous's picture


But i have always wondered if men and women have different intelligence levels?

Anonymous's picture

Studies done in numerous

Studies done in numerous countries have shown that while men and women fall all along the range of aggressiveness (there are both men and women at the top and bottom of the aggressiveness scale in fairly equal numbers), the point where the average for men is, is higher than the point for women. The same applies for empathy, with equal numbers at either extreme and the average for women being higher than the average for males. However, numerous studies of IQ based on gender, over the past century, have shown that the average for men and women is equal, with more men at the extreme ranges of the scale.

There are even differences in how newborns respond to external stimuli based on gender. Again, these are based on averages. However social conditioning has a hard time explaining this one.

your argument is flawed. Just because you know a female that died at age twenty and a make who lived to a hundred and three doesn't mean the fact that women, on average, live longer than men is wrong. And women living longer on average doesn't make the two people you know dying when they did impossible.

Also, I suggest that you try telling any mother with an autistic child that her child's disability is because the type of nurture she provided was bad, lacking or wrong; that it was not due to genes, an abnormally excessive amount of testosterone at a vital point in fetal development, along with other yet unknown factors. Somehow you must have missed the memo debunking the refrigerator mother theory.

nature and nurture work hand in hand. Nature affects how you perceive and accept nurture. Nurture and your perception of it changes what genes you express. Which obviously changes your nature. Nature provides a range that nurture can influence the final outcome in. To ignore one in favour of the other is foolish. To ignore the influence of biochemicals such as neurotransmitters and hormones is also foolish.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Male/female: genes, environment, and ...

"We can actively select and change our environments while at the same time we can be actively selected and changed by our environments"

Which means there are genes and environment and .... individual choices?