Men vs Women: Are They Mentally Different?

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Differences in mental abilities, between humans in general, and between women and men specifically, have always been a topic of debate among researchers and scholars. Cognitive and biological bases of differences in mental abilities are being explored, but are not yet understood here is a “general factor” that powers all mental abilities, which is “general intelligence”. General intelligence can be considered as “brain power”; some scientists say that it is a fixed trait, others think that it is malleable, while others think that it is the ability to adapt to one’s environment.

There is a thought that mental abilities fade with time. A number of Canadian soldiers were tested while serving in World War II, then retested after around forty years. According to these tests, it was proven that abilities concerned with stored information and knowledge are more stable than abilities that are concerned with thinking under time pressure. However, later on, psychologists argued that one can maintain his/her mental abilities level through living in a complex and intellectually stimulating environment, having a flexible personality, and maintaining speed of information processing.

Feminists argue that any psychological differences between women and men, whether in interests, mental abilities, or emotions, are caused by social conditioning, not by genes. Studies suggest that there are very small differences in general mental ability between men and women; there are differences in the way their brains process language, information, emotion, cognition, etc., but these differences do not necessarily relate to differences in intellect.

Scientists explored four primary areas of differences in male and female brains: processing, chemistry, structure, and activity. They used some medical techniques, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT) scan, to investigate differences in sizes of structural brain components, such as the gray and white matters, in addition to the physiological and neurological activity levels in various brain regions.

The gray matter contains most of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies, which are involved in muscle control and sensory perception, such as seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, and speech. White matter, on the other hand, is a bundle of nerve fibers that transmit signals around the nervous system, mainly connecting the brain’s gray matter and other processing centers together.

It was proven that the male brain has a larger total brain volume than a female by 8-13%; however, this size difference has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. Other studies argue that the frontal area of the cortex and the temporal area of the cortex are more organized in women, and are bigger in volume. Male brains contain about 6.5 times more gray matter than women, while female brains contain more than 9.5 times as much white matter than men. This may explain why women are multi-taskers, while men excel in highly task-focused projects.

Moreover, men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain, while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. Our human memory center, hippocampus, is often larger in females; there is also a higher density of neural connections into the hippocampus in females. Women also have verbal centers on both sides of the brain, while men have verbal centers on only the left hemisphere; that is why women tend to score higher in IQ tests related to social cognition skills, perceptual speed, memory skills, and verbal usage.

Boys are more prone to learning disabilities than girls; researchers found more boys with dyslexia and language problems. Boys are also more likely to be diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Yet, men score higher in IQ tests in certain specialized skills such as spatial awareness, motor skills, and mathematical abilities. There is an area in the brain called the Inferior Parietal Lobule (IPL), which is significantly larger in men, especially on the left side, than in women. This area is thought to control mental mathematical ability, this explains why men frequently perform higher in mathematical tasks than women do.

IQ and mental tests cannot accurately measure intelligence; therefore, it is difficult to prove or disapprove whether there are in fact differences between women and men in intelligence or mental abilities. Moreover, there are always exceptions to every so-called gender rule; there are many women with good spatial skills and men with good language and writing skills.

References
webmd.com
theguardian.com

*Published in SCIplanetWomen and Science (Spring 2016) Issue.

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