It’s a myth.
It has long been thought that male and female brains are different.
‘Men are from Mars and women are from Venus’ is the kind of pop psychology that grew out of the belief that because ‘men have bigger brains’ they were better able to think and process. It is true than on average, the brain of an average man weighs around 140 grams (5 ounces) heavier than the brain of an average female. Research shows, however, that irrespective of gender, the bigger a person is, the bigger the brain will be. It is body size that determines brain size. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that bigger brains are ‘better and more able’ brains.
MRI reveals the truth
With the advent of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans, we know that human brains are plastic, capable of growing, changing and being moulded in many different ways.
A 2015 study led by Daphna Joel at Tel Aviv University examined the brains of more than 100 brain structures in over 1400 brain scans and found that it was impossible to divide these neatly into female-typical and male-typical brains. Each brain had a mosaic of different characteristics.
What does this mean?
Our brain is the product of the life we have lived, the experiences we have had and our education, occupations, sports and hobbies. The way we perform tasks reflects not just our gender and genetic structure but also external inputs. e.g. the hippocampus of London taxi drivers with The Knowledge is larger and heavier that brains from trainee taxi drivers. (Read more)
What about social stereotypes?
Brain-changing experiences may differ for men and women.
Society traditionally allocated life-roles to men and women which emphasised differing skills and opportunities.
Over the years, stereotypical concepts of ‘suitable’ toys, games, behaviour and activities for girls and boys determined choices in education and career pathways, shaping brain strengths and neural pathways.
Joan Clarke, whose mathematical prowess is celebrated in the movie, The Imitation Game, had an intellectual upbringing and university education. The astonishing Bletchley Park codebreakers, as they were growing up, were not subjected to the social conditioning that told them “mathematics is difficult for girls”.
In today’s world, research shows us that every person’s brain is unique. Digital literacy, for example, is gender neutral. It’s time to discard the out-dated concept of ‘a male brain is better at ….’ and ‘females are more suited to ……’.
Every one of us has an amazing brain.
It is not a female brain or a male brain.
It’s YOUR brain.
How well you use your brain and challenge it is up to you!
Do you have an opinion or example to share about this article? Do tell us below.
When I was involved with board appointments we tried to have women on the boards. It was genuinely believed that women asked the hard questions. Men shied away from displaying a lack of knowledge
A pediatrician looked at my twin newborns and said of the boy ‘Look at the size of his head. He is highly gifted.’ This was 8 weeks before their due date. It took a long time for him to hold his head up and now at 14 is working 2 years ahead in school. Big heads go with males in our family and so does giftedness equally in boys and girls.
I’m so glad you took that approach and there seems generally to be a move to include a more diverse scope of abilities on boards. Companies will be the better for this move.