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Are male and female brains different?

by - 08 July

Frank Burnet has a degree in Biochemistry from the University of St Andrews and a doctorate in Neuroendocrinology. He is the first professor of Science Communication in the UK and a founding member of the Cheltenham Festival. 

I talked to him years ago. Here we discuss if there are differences between the male and female brains.

The answer is - it's been very hard to detect any up till now. But brain imaging that actually takes a picture of the brain at work is beginning to show that there may be some differences. And it looks like first of all that women may transfer information quicker across from one side of their brain to the other. The other is that they may process information that's coming into the brain differently. They may direct quite a lot of the information that comes into the brain to parts of their brains which are a linked to emotion, whilst men may do that less and do more sending it to parts of the brain which have to do with for example vision and seeing things. These are active activities.
So it looks like there might be a difference. But it's very difficult to know because the brains of men vary from one man to another and the brains of women vary from one woman to another. So to come up with a answer which says: Oh, there are some things - we know now why women don't like reading maps. That's not something that's going to be proved.
But there probably are differences and certainly there are differences in the primitive parts of the brain because the parts of the brain which resolve or control the menstrual cycle are definitely different in men and women.
So in the parts of the brain which are not about thinking but which are about functions, we are absolutely unaware of, but which the brain carries out, yes, there are differences. It looks possible that women internalize more information and men will seek to actively use it. In other words the sort of the carer in women and the sort of hunter in men may mean that in evolutionary terms there are differences. But we're very early in understanding that.

How we can keep our brain young - read part of my interview with Frank Burner, here

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