Do Men's and Women's Brains Really Work Differently? A New Study Says Yes
It's a longstanding belief that the brains of men and women operate differently, but a new study conducted by a team of researchers from Stanford Medicine confirms this fact once and for all. The group of scientists found more than 1,000 gene-activation differences between female and male brains. "Using these genes as entry points, we've identified specific groups of brain cells that orchestrate specific sex-typical behaviors," says senior author Professor Nirao Shah in a statement.
To obtain their findings, the researchers studied different structures within mouse brains that are known to program "rating, dating, mating, and hating" behaviors. These sex-typical behaviors help the animals reproduce and help their offspring survive. For example, male mice who felt their turf was being infringed upon immediately attacked if it was another male, but backed down if it was a female. Additionally, the research found that female mice exhibit maternal rather than territorial aggression, attacking anything that threatens their pups. According to the research, other mammals, including humans, share these same structures.
After analyzing tissue extracted from those brain structures, the scientists found more than 1,000 genes that are notably more active in the brains of one sex versus the other. Additionally, the team pinpointed more than 600 differences in gene-activation levels between females in different phases of their estrous cycle—or the menstrual cycle for human women. "To find, within these four tiny brain structures, several hundred genes whose activity levels depend only on the female's cycle stage was completely surprising," says Shah.
The research also provides insight into why certain diseases affect one gender more than the other. For example, scientists found genes with a link to Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis, both of which are more prevalent in women than in men. Alternatively, autism spectrum disorder is four times more likely to affect men than women. The researchers speculate that females need some genes to be working harder, and males need other genes to be working harder.