By MICHAEL SHAPIRO, PhD
I know this may come as a total shock, but men and women are different. This becomes readily apparent whenever the two sexes interact; be it in the bonds of marriage, a dating relationship, or long-term side-by-side service with a co-worker of the opposite sex. Although it’s almost become a worn-out, politically incorrect stereotype, doesn’t it actually appear that men are, in fact, typically more “logical,” while women are more “emotional”? Wives and girlfriends; have you ever wondered why your male counterpart always seems to want to “fix” a problem rather than just listen to what you have to say and validate your feelings? Husbands and boyfriends; have you ever been puzzled by that “tirade” of emotions, when it would be so easy to just get to the root of the problem and correct it?
This fundamental, seemingly universal difference may not have its roots in culture, family, upbringing, or prejudicial notions of the opposite sex. Instead, it could be a function of neurological development. It is a proven fact that there are actually differences in the structure and chemistry of male vs. female brains. These differences begin in utero, before we’re even born! In fact, a recent study using MRI scans found that female fetuses have neurological connections (“functional connectivity”) that are almost nonexistent in male brains. As such, there are hardwired differences in place before we’ve been exposed to cultural, environmental, or family influences.
During the formative period of childhood, female brains begin to process information differently than male brains. For instance, females tend to have verbal centers on both sides of the brain, while males tend to have verbal centers only in the left hemisphere. Females often have a larger hippocampus (the “center” of human memory) with a higher density of neural connections in that area. As a result, females take in and absorb more sensory and emotional information than their male counterparts. It has also been shown that male brains use more grey matter (information and action-centered areas of the brain) when processing information, while females use more white matter (which governs “higher order” reasoning and thinking). This is why females tend to be better at multi-tasking, are usually better at interpreting emotions, and seem to have “women’s intuition” (which I think is a term invented by men to explain why women are generally smarter!). In contrast, men actually utilize fewer brain areas and are prone to “tunnel vision” when they are actively engaged in a single activity (wives…think about trying to get your husband to listen to you while he’s watching football on TV. Yeah, I think you understand).
It has been shown that men and women even differ in the way they use neurotransmitters (the chemicals that allow your brain cells to “talk” to each other) and hormones. Because of these differences, men are usually less able to sit still for long periods of time, and they require different strategies than women for dealing with stress. Specifically, women do better with “face-to-face” time, during which they discuss their feelings with friends. Men, on the other hand, use “side-by-side” time to engage in a mutual activities with friends, such as playing sports or repairing a car.
Of course, even though these new revelations on the differences between the male and female brain are based on solid science, NO scientific discovery is applicable to 100% of people, 100% of the time. There will always be both men and women who defy these generalizations; and there are many people of both genders who “process” information more like their traditional counterparts! Most people have both male and female aspects of their characters and personalities. However…before you get frustrated with that person (or persons) in your life, remind yourself that any differences may be innate and hard-wired. In the interest of preserving peace on Earth, take some advice: Men, turn off the TV, listen to the litany of emotions, express your sympathy and support, and don’t be in such a rush to fix things. Women, don’t expect that man to be able to sit there for hours at a time and discuss feelings over a glass of wine. That’s what your girlfriends are for. Meanwhile, as they say in France, vive la difference!