Friday, 2 May 2014

Neuroscience differences between men and women

I started this year thinking there wasn't a great deal of difference between men and women but I've gone full circle and believe there are. Maybe it's since my daughter has gone from refusing to wear anything but trousers to asking for her first dress.  But that is probably more about peer pressure at school than neuroscience.

Decyphering the differences between men and women has lasted centuries.  Gender is however on a continuum which is why it's not cut and dried.  There is still a lot of neuro science to be done me thinks.

So here's a bit of research on the neuro-scientific differences and would love feedback on more if there are any thoughts out there. Send me your thoughts via twitter @kate_faragher

Oxytocin which induces contractions and milk making in mothers is meant to improve spatial memory. the thought being that the mothers will remember for longer where food sources are.  But is this only when you are lactating or most of the time?

This rings a bell for me.  I"m always remembering who we met, the story of their life and what people are interested in; I mention the name or the story to my husband and he grows a Klingon head and it goes way above it. Who? he asks

We as women allegedly like men who show 'enhanced learning ability" and I just love how my husband can real off facts and figures and is an asset in any pub quiz. But women seem better at recalling information than men.  I'll remember stories but my husband seems to remember facts, unless the facts fascinate me.  It's always been my understanding that men recall facts better but the neuroscience seems to say the opposite.

So let's look at the brain: first of all from what I've gathered from a few places this left right brain thing is a whole load of bunkum.  Women do have more wiring but it's not as simple as left and right.

The Amygdala - men have bigger ones which might be why they have greater sex drives (allegedly).  Men encode emotional memory on the right of their amygdala while women use the left so women retain emotional memories more vividly.  This can be tricky when doing something that didn't go so well the last time!

The Hippocampus is where short term memory is turned into long term memory and it's different in men and women.  Again the men use the right and the women use the left. This seems to be less active in men and larger and more active for women. So women seem to remember things for longer

The Limbic Brain - Women seem to have a larger and deeper limbic system.

Wiring is different too but not until after you're 14.  The wiring before that seems to be quite similar. Men's wiring seems to be from front to back while women's wiring is more right to left hemisphere - however some of these findings seem to have been disputed.

Emotions it seems men don't recall past events as well - probably because of that spatial memory and smaller hippocampus.  They also concentrate more on the present moment while women  internalise their emotions and can recall them more effectively.  As they store them in different bits they recall them differently too.

Emotions and decisions 
So men protect and defend themselves by quick self analysis, quick decisions, focus and immediate action while women protect themselves by reflection, connection and exploration of emotions. (Check out McKinsey's "A Competitive Edge for the Future"  It's not surprising we work differently in business.

So we know there are differences but it looks like there is still a lot more research to be done on how this translates.  My gut feeling on this is that it's not going to be as simple as male and female because humans aren't as simple as that.  As Ben Goldacre says "I think you'll find it's a little bit more complicated than that'

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