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Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal maps of neural circuitry show women’s brains are suited to social skills and memory, men’s perception and co-ordination.

Scientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains.

Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.

Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men’s brains apparently wired more for perception and co-ordinated actions, and women’s for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

“If you look at functional studies, the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there’s a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better,” Verma said. “Women are better at intuitive thinking. Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved – they will listen more.”

She added: “I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.”

The findings come from one of the largest studies to look at how brains are wired in healthy males and females. The maps give scientists a more complete picture of what counts as normal for each sex at various ages. Armed with the maps, they hope to learn more about whether abnormalities in brain connectivity affect brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Verma’s team used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to map neural connections in the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged eight to 22. The neural connections are much like a road system over which the brain’s traffic travels.

The scans showed greater connectivity between the left and right sides of the brain in women, while the connections in men were mostly confined to individual hemispheres. The only region where men had more connections between the left and right sides of the brain was in the cerebellum, which plays a vital role in motor control. “If you want to learn how to ski, it’s the cerebellum that has to be strong,” Verma said. Details of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds.

“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” Ruben Gur, a co-author on the study, said in a statement. “Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex-related.”

Jill Bolte Taylor
This a fascinating example of right brain/left brain activity. It was after my poisoning in 2001, that I experienced many of the same sensations that Jill discusses. This led to my interest in brain activity, but more importantly an investigation of how to life a life aligned with my deepest desires. Enjoy this!

"Close Your Eyes And The Whole Universe Disappears" oil painting by T. Boehle copyright 2009

My husband and I just returned from berry picking.  We are fortunate to live down the hill from a wooded, wild groove of berry bushes.  We each set out with a plastic quart container left over from carry out.  As we started up the hill into the woods the path is dotted with black berry bushes.  The berries are sweet and are the first to go.  Our neighbor, probably got here before us, I think to myself.  I make my way into the bushes, spotting a branch laden with the dark berries.  I notice that I feel resentful that my neighbor got here first.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that we noticed the ripe berries? I ask my husband, Mm hmm he says busy picking.

I breathe and remind myself that I can still enjoy the picking.  With that I switch from left to right brain.  In moments I am lost in berry picking.  Carefully, considering the ripeness of the forward berries, scanning the picked umbrella-like cluster for missed berries while scouting for branches out of sight heavy with berries.  The sound of the berries hitting the bottom of my plastic quart is satisfying.  I am focused and experience a sense of peace while I work.  I slowly realize I have depleted the resource and as I begin to back out of the bushes I am aware that a vine has attached itself to my bare leg.  When I reach to attend to it, I find it is very sticky and has tiny thorns that have worked their way into my skin.  It has a hold of me.  My awareness causes slight alarm and I shift from right to left brain as I consider my dilemma.  Standing still and balanced, I reach to carefully lift the top end of the vine and slowly pull it away from my leg.  I become painfully aware of the thorns as I force them to tear away from my skin.  The pain is unpleasant, but I feel pride in my endurance to bear it.  I am here to pick berries.  There are some really sticky vines in here, I say to my husband who is ahead of me.  Mm hmm he says.

I pass him as I climb the hill.  Deep into the woods the wine berries are everywhere.  I begin to make up rules about how to pick them.  My left brain is excited.  Be sure to finish one whole bush before moving on.  Only pick the deeply colored red berries.  Be vigilant to empty each drupplet.  I become aware of my rules and take a breath.  Enjoy, I think.  I smile to myself, understanding how hard I can be on myself.  With out a chance to think otherwise, I leave the bush and begin picking at the next one and then I notice that just a bit further there is a bush filled with aggregates of beautiful deeply colored red berries.  They are large and succulent looking.  I am greedy, as I softly drop berries atop of berries.  I feel pure joy at my discovery and in that realization I become aware that I have abandoned my own rules.  A fleeting notion of guilt passes and I remind myself that I am here to enjoy myself.

With my next breath I let go of the guilt and fix my gaze inside my carry out container.  There are creatures climbing on the berries.  There is a small Daddy Longlegs making her way to the top.  She is easy to help out.  Another spider is tiny with a very bulbous abdomen.  She is a yellowish color.  I try to convince her to climb onto my finger, but she is wary and my finger is so big compared to her size that it is clumsy in coordinating a capture.  My inept attempts send her deeper into the berries.  I think better and turn my attention to the tiny green bug that I previously thought was a piece of leaf.  I marvel at all that is in my cup.  My right brain is in the flow as I delight in the surprises of color, line and movement.  It is a painting come to life.

Where are you, I hear my husband call and I shift to left brain.  I am way ahead of you, I say as I survey the land.  I look at the container full of berries and calculate that I bet I have more.  My husband rounds the corner.  How much do you have he asks and holds up his quart filled to the brim.  I show him mine, ¾ full.  I smile.  You are so competitive, I say.  I am, he says.  I smile and look into my quart, shifting in to right brain.  The berries are beautiful, a range of red colors.  Each berry soft and fleshy.  Each comprised of plump sections that catch the light.  I am curious.  I place one in my mouth.  Let’s get ice cream he says.  Mm umm, I agree.