Only a rare, few people would deny that there is a clear difference between men and women. One popular book even suggested that the two sexes are from different planets! Not literally, of course, but in the way that they process information. In reality, recent research helps us to understand that these differences are deep in the brain. The structure of the brain is actually different between the genders in several areas. These differences cause the two sexes to have different perspectives and different ways of processing information. In this unit I will break down these differences and explain how they affect the way that we act with one another.
The topic of the brain differences between the genders is a sensitive and often controversial subject. When discussing the male/female brain differences, it is incredibly important that you keep two main things in mind. First, resist the urge to discount information if it doesn’t fit perfectly into your belief system or life experience. There are several factors that will have influence on the way we act that may override the male/female brain difference. It could be one of the other brain personality connection factors, or their life experience that is taking first place.
The second is VERY important when discussing this topic. At NO time am I inferring or suggesting that one is superior or inferior to the other. We are all from the same planet, we all breath the same air, and we all need water and food to survive. What I mean is that, while we have different views, much as the right brain BQD’s have views different from the left brain BDQ’s, we are still human and that is a powerful connection. In many ways, the two genders complement each other very nicely. This will be clearly shown as we move though this unit.
Also, keep in mind, there is a sort of a continuum, if you will, of very masculine to more feminine men; as well as very feminine to more masculine women. Most will fall somewhere in the middle but, possibly due to the strength of hormones during fetal development, some will be at one or the other extreme.
Please attempt not to take offense at anything said in this chapter. I am simply highlighting the brain and hormonal differences, as we currently know them. There will be variance between the opinions of experts on this subject, it does not mean right or wrong but, rather, the beauty of different perspectives.
When does it all begin?
The change begins in-utero. The fetus is inherently a female fetus. Then, when the mother’s body recognizes that the Y chromosome is present, the brain of that fetus gets a chemical bath that changes that female fetus to male. It causes the obvious physical changes, as well as changing the brain structure and size in 12 different areas; nine of these areas are larger in men. Overall, male brains on average are 10-15% larger than females. These differences can, in part, result in a multitude of variances in the way we process thought and respond to situations.
One of the most notable differences that this chemical bath causes is that it slows the maturation of the left side of the brain. This means that, inherently, the boys come out the shoot with the left side of their brains not as developed as girls. They are, in the younger years, quite simply right brain gifted. Their grey matter will peak around the age of 12. Now, the little girl’s left brain will develop first. Their right brains may take twice as long to develop as little boys. Their grey matter will peak around the age of 11.
The myelination of neurons differs between the sexes, as well. In the area of the brain where the nerves that coordinate the muscles used in speech are, girls complete the myelination process earlier than boys. This includes the time between 2-4 years old when a lot of language is being learned and used.
There are areas in each gender’s brain where the metabolic burn rates are greater than the other. For example, brain scans show that females have higher burn rates in the emotion portion of the brain that is connected to anticipating and dealing with symbolic processing. Whereas, the male brain has, on average, a greater burn rate in the portion of the brain that is responsible for processing gut reactions.
Considering these facts, is it any wonder that little girls, in general, will out-perform little boys in the primary grades? Of course, not. It is clear that boys are going to process and think with that beautiful right brain of theirs. The problem lies in the fact that the primary grades teach almost exclusively left brain skills. While you can exercise and learn to use the left brain in a right brain way, schools simply ignore this scientific information.
There is a huge danger in ignoring this information; boys can wind up falling between the cracks in the education system. For every 100 boys studying for their bachelor’s degrees, 133 girls are working for theirs. Seven out of ten children in special education classes are boys.
Imagine the impact on the family if parents fully understood this simple brain fact. It would change the way they teach and even talk to their children. Powerful information indeed!
Below I have listed some of the statistics that give us proof of the effect of the left brain maturation of the little boys being slower than the little girls are as follows:
- Tend to speak later in life than females
- Higher rate of speech problems: 2.6 to 1
- Higher rate of severe mental retardation.
- 9 in 10 children with reading problems.
- Higher rate of learning disabilities: 2.2 to 1
- Higher diagnosis of ADHD 13.2%
- Statistically, speak earlier in life than males
- Lower rate of speech problems
- Lower rate of mental retardation (1.3 to 1)
- 1 in 10 children with reading problems.
- Lower rate of learning disabilities
- Lower percent of ADHD diagnosis 5.6%
In boys you also see a much higher rate of Autism. Statistics show that the rate is 4 to 1. Rates of Dyslexia are also higher, 4.3 to 1. Some of the contributing factors to these figures may also be connected to the difference in the corpus callosum, which I will discuss later in this chapter.
I have to say that I personally question the reason behind some of these speech related figures and numbers for ADD/ADHD. Could this be connected to misunderstanding this fact regarding brain structure? Are we unrealistically expecting little boys to perform at the same rate and achieve the same mile markers at the same time as little girls; ignoring that their left brain is maturing slower? Are we slapping a label on them because they aren’t achieving what we think they should when we think they should?
Also, think back to the sections on Introversion/Extroversion and Brain Quadrant Dominance. If you have an extroverted little boy that is perhaps a right brainer, do you think it is possible that they will get incorrectly diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD? Sadly, they will. In a future unit, I will explain in some detail the effects of negative pejoratives on the brain, especially the brain of a child.
Another notable difference between the male and female brain structures is that men tend to have only one primary speech center, whereas, women have the potential for multiple speech centers. In the first unit we learned about the main speech center in the brain, the Broca’s area in the anterior left section. Men tend to use only this left side area for speech; women, however, tend to employ the right side of the brain as well. When scans were done of both women and men listening to a novel being read, the men only had the left hemisphere activated; however, the women showed activity in both left and right hemispheres.
The zone in the left hemisphere connected to speech is also different between male and female. In general, this zone in the female brain is 11% more dense in neurons. David Geary, PhD, Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri says, “If there’s more area dedicated to a set of skills, it follows that the skills will be more refined.” Is it any wonder that women tend to speak more than men? Clearly not.
The brain differences in relation to this area explain why men and women appear so different in both the amount they speak and the way they speak. There are many tests that have been conducted on how many words, what type of words, and the tones of words that are normally used by either sex. Below are a few notable statistics:
- Generally speak only 12,000 words per day.
- 60% words, 40% sounds.
- Tends to use more nouns & verbs.
- Shorter sentences.
- They will often be more specific, key points.
- Generally speak 50,000 words per day.
- Almost 100% are actual words.
- Tends to use more adverbs & adjectives.
- Longer sentences.
- Tends to use more details in speech.
The potential for speech centers that the woman has on the right side of the brain can also lend to influencing the style of speech. The right brain is full of pictures and emotions, as you have already learned. According to some experts this leads to women having the ability to speak with more emotion than men; allowing them to express their feelings better than men.
However, it may be more difficult for men, in general, to express their emotions because they tend to attach pictures to the emotions they feel. Without the ability to access right brain speech centers, they can experience frustration when trying to attach words to those feelings. This is why it often takes skill and insight to draw out what a man is feeling.
Problem-solving is another difference between men and women; likely, also, the results of brain differences. I’m not referring to the creative or fact-based skills, but, rather, internal or external processing. Women tend to use some of those extra words and extra brain area devoted to speech to problem-solve externally; they will walk through the steps to solve an issue verbally. Women really just want to be heard, to have a sounding board, to have someone to listen as they work through the problem or situation or just experience out loud.
Men are quite the opposite. They do not have as much brain area devoted to speech so they tend to not use it as much. When they are problem-solving they tend think it through, not talk it through. Some studies also reveal that men’s brains respond to stress (i.e. the women beginning to use lots of words to describe a problem) by activating a part of the limbic system that prompts action. As they are listening to someone recount a sticky situation, problem, or story they are internally thinking about how to fix the problem.
Needless to say, this leads to quite a few misunderstandings between the genders, at times even heated confrontations. Both parties can feel hurt, confused, and frustrated because something, which likely began as an insignificant situation, has become a huge communication ordeal.
This is truly powerful information in relationship counseling or coaching. Whether in family, personal, or business relationships, if the scientific structural differences are better understood and honored relationships will vastly improve.
The Corpus Callosum
Another size difference that affects the way we process things is in the area of the brain called the corpus callosum. These are the fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is the primary pathway through which thought travels between the hemispheres. In the female, these connecting fibers tend to be larger in diameter and they tend to have more of them.
I like to explain it this way: Picture a large metropolitan city, with its major freeway interchanges, on-ramps, off-ramps, several freeways merging, then breaking off, with a huge amount of cars on it at all times. This is the picture that fits the corpus callosum of a woman and each of these cars represents a single thought. Now, picture a quiet two lane country road; every so often, there is a one lane bridge. Now on this road you have very few cars travelling at any given time. This is how I want you to picture the male brain.
The result is that women can run several thoughts at almost the same time. In reality, every brain can only focus on one thought at any split second; it is just that women’s brains are traveling so fast between the hemispheres and all around the brain that they appear to be having several thoughts at the same time. This is why you see women often times talking on the phone, holding a child on their hip, cooking dinner and setting the table all at the same time and all with skill.
Men on the other hand tend to remain single thought focused. They can focus their brain energy on one project without allowing outside distractions to intervene with their thought process. This is why a man can be watching TV, or working on the car, or any other project, and sheer chaos can be taking place around them (kids yelling, wife talking, things happening), yet they seem to be completely oblivious to anything except what their brain is, at that very moment, focused on.
Possibly due to this structural difference, men tend to have a much more lateralized thinking style and women tend to have a more global thinking style. Regarding women’s brains, Arlene Taylor, Ph. D in the syllabus Gender Uniqueness states, “If any part of the brain is on, all parts are on.” The fact that men do not have large pathways from the right to the left side of the brain causes a man to have a more energy efficient brain. Women’s brains tend to use more energy and not be nearly as efficient.
Mark Gungor, in his presentation about the difference between the male and female brains, has a section called “The Nothing Box.” It is a very humorous way to look at the effects of this brain anatomy difference; if you look it up on YouTube you are sure to laugh. In short, he refers to the female’s brains as a big ball of wire, where everything is connected to everything-people, places, experiences; all just jumbled together and easily accessed all at the same time. Men, however, have everything in “boxes”-a box for the car, for you, for your kids, for the wife’s mother ‘somewhere in the basement;’ and they never take out more than one box at time, and the boxes don’t touch.
He goes on to explain that there exists in the male brain a “nothing box.” This is, in his words, their favorite box; it is the place where men go when they are stressed or need to unwind. Because of their own processing style, most women cannot relate to this concept. How can a person think about nothing?! You have to be thinking about something; however, that’s not always so in the male brain. It may be due to this portion of brain anatomy, or possibly a different reason, but it is definitely a real thing that differs in the two brains.
The figures on the higher rate of disorders like ADHD and dyslexia may be connected to this difference, as well. Due to the decreased neural pathways in the male brain, there is a lower coordination between the two hemispheres.
A variance in the way that men and women test can also be a result of these structural difference. Statistically, men test 75% better in spatial tasks, especially those involving mental rotation. They also tend to have higher scores in math. The skill men have to remain single thought focused aids them in testing, as well. They have higher tests scores than do women when there is some noise; this is probably due to the fact that they can better “tune out” external distractions. In contrast, the woman’s brain will attempt to process all of the incoming data.
The increased spatial gifts of the male brain can be connected to the parts of the brain that men use, verses women, when performing activities that require spatial ability. Women tend to use their cerebral cortex when solving problems that require navigational spatial skills. Men, however, tend to use the left side of their hippocampus when spatially navigating things. The hippocampus apparently codes where you are in space, giving the male an advantage in this area.
When it comes to IQ scores, women and men differ, as well. IQ level really has nothing to do with brain size. As a matter of fact, Albert Einstein, known to be one of the world’s most intelligent people, had a smaller than average brain. So, while men’s brains, in general, are large in actual size, this has no bearing on IQ. The overall average test scores of men and women are basically the same. However, when broken down into subjects the results are interesting.
When taking IQ tests, women tend to score higher in verbal tests, motor programming skills, and rapidly scanning the environment for selected features. They, also, score better in areas of language fluency. Their testing scores may be higher if the environment around them is quiet and has fewer distractions. Men’s IQ scores are in more peaks and valleys. This means that they tend to be really good at a few special things, but not well in others. Women’s IQ scores tend to be more evenly distributed.
It is interesting to note how the roles of the sexes in society are not often connected to IQ. One study revealed that two-thirds of women whose IQ’s were above 170 (considered extremely gifted) were housewives and office workers; but, men who have high IQ scores are usually high achievers. While this is not connected to brain anatomy, it is an interesting feature that I feel is good to know when interacting or coaching people of both genders.
The goal setting gifts of both genders do tend to differ; this may be due to brain structure, or some other factor. Whatever the actual brain reason, being aware of the way the two set goals will aid in life success. Men tend to be more focused on the achievement of the goal, while women tend to be more focused on the experience. Men tend to be great at short-range planning and more narrow in their view. Combine this with their single thought focusing ability, and they tend to come to a conclusion faster. Women are gifted in long-range planning and a wide global view. They may tend to put off coming to a conclusion until all of the possible factors are considered.
This information has a powerful application for relationships, personal and business. Think about it: If women are better at the global view, can process easier with both hemispheres and long range planning and men are better at a focused narrow view and short range planning, when they work together they cover all of the bases. I always tell businesses that, if they are building a think tank or are looking for members of a board, they want to be sure that both genders are represented; the outcome will be much better.
 A Field Guide to Boys and Girls, Susan Gilbert, New York: HarperCollins, 2000, 8
 M. Conlin, “The New Gender Gap,” Business Week, May 26, 2003, 75-78
 Martha Bridge Denckla, PhD, a researcher at Kennedy Krieger Institute
 The Sexual Paradox, Susan Pinker, psychologist
 Gender Uniqueness, Section 2 page 2 Arlene Taylor, Ph. D
 David Geary, PhD, professor of psychological sciences at University of Missouri in an interview with WebMD
 Gender Uniqueness, Section 2 page 3 Arlene Taylor, Ph. D