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August 21, 2013
by Ashley Marie

The Ultimate Match: The Male vs. the Female Brain

August 21, 2013 15:00 by Ashley Marie



Our world has been shaped by the brilliance of both male and female minds. Notable men include Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sigmund Freud.  And notable women include Charlotte Brontë, Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Walters, and Caroline Herschel.

However, it remains a relatively taboo question to ask whether there are differences between the male and female brain. And this fear is not to be belittled. We face concerns about the mistreatment of women in the workplace, as well as abuses stemming from prejudices against another gender. These issues can produce a power imbalance between men and women, and this has historically been problematic for women.

But the above question should not be dismissed, as answering the question can help us understand the advantages of both sets of brains. This article will analyze the differences between male and female brain structures and then explore two areas in which men and women show distinct cognitive differences.  

Differences in Brain Structures

The adult brain consists of approximately one hundred billion neurons and typically weighs between 2.25 and 3.5 pounds of dense matter.[1]

The brain has three principal layers.

The first of these is the brain stem, which is the bottom layer. This part of the brain is connected to the spinal cord. The brain stem is more primitive, as it is responsible for our instincts and our responses to immediate crises. Male brains tend to activate this part of the brain more often than women, which is why they are more likely to respond physically in cases where they feel threatened.  

Secondly, the limbic system is the middle layer, which is where emotions are processed. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, and this tends to be larger in males, making them typically more aggressive than females.

Thirdly, the cerebral cortex is the top layer, which is where we use our cognitive skills. The left side is responsible for language skills. The right side is responsible for spatial skills, including mathematics.  The following section examines both of these cognitive functions, which are especially different for men and women.

Language: Women Take the Lead

There are differences between male and female brains at a mere 26 weeks of pregnancy.[2] Scientists have found that the corpus callosum – a bundle of nerve tissues that connect the left and right parts of the brain – is actually thicker in female fetuses than male fetuses.  

Dr Denckla from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, concludes that women have language functions in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This means that when women take part in a language-based activity, such as reading a poem, they use both sides of the brain. Men, however, only use the left side.

Similarly, Dr Geary from the University of Missouri claims that the way our brains are shaped affects the skills that we tend to enhance.   

Fine motor skills associated with language learning, such as handwriting, tend to mature in girls six years prior to boys.

Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe are just a few examples of women who displayed a talented fluency in the written language. 

Of course, these scientific findings do not mean that men are incapable of refining their language skills to produce brilliant works. Bookshelves also boast an array of notable male writers, such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The above findings simply suggest that women display an advantage in language functions, especially during early developmental stages.

Mathematics: Men Take the Lead

Studies have shown that male students display a greater facility than females when it comes to learning mathematics. A study involving 500 male and female children showed that the areas of the brain responsible for mathematic skills tend to mature in boys four years prior to girls.[3]

According to Baron-Cohen, the male brain is better equipped to develop the ability to systematize – i.e. to figure out how things work, such as a car, a military unity, or a computer. This also involves the ability to predict how a specific action will produce a certain result.  

Famous male mathematicians include Pythagoras, Andrew Wiles, Wilhelm Leibniz, René Descartes, and Leonhard Euler.

Again, this does not mean that there are not also notable female mathematicians. Women of note in this domain include Hypatia, Sophie Germain, Ada Lovelace, Sofia Kovalevskaya, and Emmy Noether.

Parenthood and a Child's Cognitive Development 

Because of the differences between male and female brains, especially during early stages of development, it is important for parents and teachers to recognize how to help children maximize their learning skills.

Typically, girls might require more assistance in mathematics, while boys might require more help with handwriting or the written language.

As shown through examples of brilliant minds throughout the course of the human story, both men and women are capable of pursuing their areas of interest – regardless of their brain structures. This is the beauty of the human brain: it is embedded with enormous potential, as it can be enhanced and refined throughout our lives.

What does this all mean?

As with most things in life, nothing is black and white. Sometimes the confusion that lies in issues such as parenting or even in your own understanding of work tasks can put a lot of stress on us. Working in a field where your brain just might not be best suited can challenge you in ways you may not have anticipated. Sometimes this stress can build up and we may need to see additional help. A counselor can help to dissect the issues in ones life and help to give coping tools for daily life. Sometimes we may need to seek a new career which may be better suited for our own personal gifts and talents. A career counselor can help to work on this which can lead to more satisfaction in your life and even improved relationships. Here is an article which may be able to equip you better with these possible transitions.

Male or Female we have the brain we have so let's begin to work with it and adapt as we need to.


[1] Gurian, M. 2011. Boys and Girls Learn Differently!  A Guide for Teachers and Parents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Books.

[2] How Male and Female Brains Differ. 2013. WebMD. [online] Available at:

[3] Ibid.


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