Law People

Recent Books on Brains and Gender-Based Differences

Two recently published books by female doctors highlight some of the differences between the genders in brain development and differentiation, and give insights as to how to best use our diverse legal talent pool.

The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine explores the differences in the way women process thoughts compared with the way men do.  For example, women use 20,000 words a day compared to 7,000 for men. Evidently everyone starts out with a female brain. Until eight (8) weeks after conception (when testosterone is introduced), all brains are female. When the testosterone surge arrives, cells in the communication and emotion centers are killed off and more cells in the sex and aggression centers are born. As a result, females can hear a broader range of sound frequency and tones in the human voice, are better able to observe facial and other emotional cues, and display greater interest in getting another’s attention.   Female newborns less than twenty-four hours old respond more to the distressed cries of another baby and to the human face than do male newborns. Four year olds that have the highest quality social relationships also registered the lowest doses of testosterone level in utero. Pre-adolescent girls take turns twenty times more often than boys. Girls use language to get consensus, influencing others without telling them directly what to do. They make joint decisions, often agreeing to others’ suggestions, or setting forth their ideas in a form of questions, such as “I’ll be the teacher, okay?” The disorders that inhibit people from picking up on social nuance, such as autism spectrum disorders and Asperger’s syndrome, are 8 times more common in boys than in girls.

Dr. Marianne J. Legato's new book, Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Rodale, 2005), points out some significant differences in the male and female brains:

·        Female brains produce a hormone called oxytocin that motivates making and preserving connections with other people.

·        Women have a higher rate of blood flow to their brains, making them potentially more efficient.

·        While men have on average 10% heavier brains, women have more gray matter in the frontal cortex of their brains than do men, which is the executive center of the brain and controls complex behaviors.

·        Women also have more connections between the two sides of their brains, allowing the processing of several different streams of information at once. This difference results both in more linear problem-solving approach in men, analyzing and solving one issue at a time, and increased multitasking in women, which some research suggests is less efficient than the linear route. 

·        The amygdala, the primitive part of the brain that responds quickly to stress, has extensive connections in women to the parts that control blood pressure and heart rate, while men have fewer connections, resulting in a greater ability in men to be untouched physiologically by stress.

·        The female brain has higher levels of the hormone estrogen than men, which prolongs the production of cortisol, so a women feels more stressed for a longer period of time than a man in the same situation, and estrogen also activates a larger field of neurons, giving women a more detailed and vivid memory of the stressful event.

·        Regarding communication, women have more gray matter in the left brain, which processes language, and women use both sides of their brains for speech, unlike men, who use only one. Women have more dopamine in the language parts of their brains than men do, allowing more fluid and efficient processing of language. In addition, women usually are much more able to reading subtle or nuanced expression, probably as an evolutionary aide to caring for pre-verbal infants. The net results give women a decidedly increased capacity for, and interest in, communicating. 

·        Higher levels of testosterone have been correlated with enhanced spatial imaging ability (such as manipulating three-dimensional concepts) but with a diminished ability for verbal expression.

·        Others' expectations play a big role in girls' performance. Girls told that the math test they are taking has a gender bias do much worse on the same test than if they are not told that.

·        There are some researchers who believe that the detachment and difficulties in communicating relating emotionally that autistics exhibit are the results of an "extreme male brain," potentially caused by exposure to high levels of testosterone in utero. There are much higher rates of autism among boys than girls.

·        Men's brains atrophy more with aging than do women's—it begins earlier and is more pronounced on the left, language-based side.

·        A study published in Science on what made working women happy reported that homework and commuting ranked the lowest, but watching TV alone ranked very high, above shopping and talking on the phone. Interestingly enough, taking care of children ranked below cooking and just above housework. The amount of sleeplessness and tight work deadlines decreased enjoyment of all pleasurable activities.

·        Women are more stressed than men. A major National Consumer's League study in 2003 found that younger people were more stressed than older generations, and women were significantly more stressed (84%) than men (76%). Men were worried about their work, women about their family, although women who work and have a family seem to get less stressed out when something goes wrong in either place. In addition, women are 2/3 more likely to be depressed than men.

·        Chronic anxiety is associated with reduced brain mass and impaired memory structures in the brain.

·        Stress enhances the speed at which male rats learn,  while female rats' ability was impaired. Nonetheless, women are more resilient after stress than men are: they recover more quickly and more fully, most often from bonding with others.

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Liz Lowe - March 10, 2007 6:13 AM

This is a fascinating article.



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