Are Male and Female Brains Different?


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.


Works Cited:

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

4 thoughts on “Are Male and Female Brains Different?

  1. I thought it was very interesting you you brought together and compared studies whose results opposed each other, and managed to still have them work towards your thesis. I wonder how many differences appear in male and female rat brains overall, and it would be interesting to look into the overall differences and the times the emerge in development.


  2. Very interesting post. I find it interesting that there are structural differences between male and female brains but it is hard to correlate them to specific sex behavior. Kinda plays into the nature via nurture idea. Great job!


  3. This was an interesting article that explained some of the biological basis of the brain. On a social context, people might argue that there is no difference between brains depending on sex, but seeing the other side of the coin can add some perspective to that. I wonder, though, if the morphological difference has any major impact, or if it’s just something shaped by the environment in which the brain is developing.


  4. This sounds really interesting. I am wondering if researchers could take a developmental approach in observing male and female brains. For example, are there structural differences in the brains of young girls and boys, or do these structural changes arise as the children develop into adults? Perhaps you could measure the growth patterns of the hippocampus and amygdala in males and females over a period of time to see if these structures grow faster in males which would explain why they are ‘larger’ in male brains. It may also be interesting to see if these structures are equally activated in the brains even though they differ in size. For example, you could activate the amygdala region of the brain by exposing males and females to a scary stimulus (evoking fear). Then, you could use an EEG to measure the electrical activity in the amygdala region of the brain. This method of manipulating behavior to measure the brain would also give us more insight into the question, is bigger better? This links to the question, do larger brains make us smarter? But, in this case, do larger amygdalas make us more sensitive/reactive to fear?


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