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Over the years, researchers have studied gender differences in brain size, structure, function and neurotransmission, in order to unravel the mystery of differences in male and female mental processing. Several findings have helped scientists understand the differences, with some of these findings surprising the researchers. Much of the evidence has clinical value, but the type of upbringing and exposure to media that fuels these differences are not yet fully understood. Studies that reveal the abilities of men and women are plenty, but it is the history of each study subject that needs to be exposed to find the deeper meaning behind the way men and women think and behave. This essay aims to reveal some of the evidence about the abilities and tendencies of each gender and encourage the reader to believe that it is not physical, but environmental factors that contribute mostly to the differences in the male and female minds.
Four main arguments regularly arise related to the cognitive differences between men and women: the differences are due to nature, or nurture, or they are a combination of cultural and biological factors, or there is no difference between to two. (Smythe, 2011)
Assuming these arguments all have some validity, taken together they indicate it isn’t simply the physical science that shows the differences between a man and woman’s mind, it is history and circumstance that has crafted each gender into what it is.
Both genders are exposed to media which outlines and portrays how a man and a woman should think and behave. It all starts from the first toy a child is given. Males and females then continue on a journey of self-discovery while constantly being exposed to society’s interpretation about how each gender should think and behave. And, as it will be noted, the brains of each gender don’t alter, but the way they are used is changed based on what they’ve experienced.
Different areas of the brain are used for different functions and there are functions that each gender is typically more often capable of. Scientists are very aware of their ability to determine which areas of the brain function in different circumstances within each gender, and studies into the way that each race behaves are not that dissimilar – each demographic, whether it is male, female, Asian, European, Russian… etc, behaves similarly within that demographic. People in any given time throughout history have also behaved differently and this is further evidence that the actions of groups of people are determined based on the influences around them. For example, in the past, people have been less forgiving of crimes, and arguably less rational, such as when people resorted to stoning suspects to death as a widespread practice. People were also burned alive because they were suspected of being witches. These types of practices don’t exist commonly today, further providing proof that society controls the way one thinks and dictates the gender or race roles that each person plays.
This means that because men and women experience life differently, the way they think and behave will be different too. This would imply that class, age, ethnicity and general upbringing plays as much of a role in the way people think and behave as which gender a person is.
Many factors play a role in determining the way the male and female brains function. For example, if a boy is given a truck to play with and a female is given a Barbie, each gender will grow to know and accept each toy they are given and their brains will learn to prefer one over the only for the simple fact of familiarity. (Allison, 2012).
These social factors have led to many cognitive differences among the genders. Several of which will now be explained. Over the years, different methodologies have been used to study the brain structure, chemistry and function in opposite sex. The results showed that the main structures of male and female brain are very similar, but there are some key differences. (Cosgrove 2007). By collecting and re-analyzing large numbers of scientific findings of sex differences in personality, researchers were able to conclude some of the key characteristic of male and female personalities. Studies have showed that a lot of similarity between males and females reflection under certain social situations. (Feingold, 1994).
It should be noted before examining the studies, that while women have smaller brains than men, this does not mean they are less intelligent. A person’s brain is proportionate to their body size. And the size of the brain does not determine its ability. If the size of a brain were all that mattered, whales and elephants would be much more intelligent than humans. (Fisk, 2011). A study explores the question of brain size difference between men and women, and how it affects intelligence. The study examined a large data group of brain weight of men and women in two races. The results indicate there is an exact difference in brain weight between each sex in each race that was studied. (Ankney, 1992).
One study explores the work of testosterone, a steroid hormone also known as the male sex hormone, because it plays a key role in development of male sexual characteristics. It also affects the human brain development during the intrauterine period, resulting in brain structure and function difference in the opposite sex. (Swaab, 2007). Studies have identified that the difference between a woman’s and a man’s brain isn’t merely because one contains estrogen and the other testosterone. While men have more testosterone and women have more estrogen, both genders contain some of each substance. This could indicate that it is more than just physics that shape a man and a woman’s mind. (Fisk, 2011). While many believe that testosterone is the main substance that determines the behavior of man, this is not entirely true. Testosterone does play a role in the minds of men, but it isn’t the determining factor. A 1996 study found that large doses of testosterone didn’t change the behavior of normal men, but it did make aggressive men more aggressive. (Fisk, 2011).
Researchers have also studied the influences of testosterone on sexual orientation, which plays an important role in mammalian brain development. The findings showed that influences of testosterone vary in different stages of sexual development. And the results have clinical value for developing treatment for individuals with sex developmental disorders. (Baker, 1974).
Women’s brains are more able to multitask because of more neurons connecting the left and right side of the brain. Female test subjects who were asked to recall definitions of words had their entire brains light up when they were thinking about the definitions. Men, however, had concentrated brain activity in the left hemisphere. (Allison, 2012). This allows women to concentrate on more than one problem at a time and therefore choose to participate in several activities in order to solve one problem. It is because of differences such as these that many relationships can encounter issues. This is usually evidenced if the two sides are unable to accept each other’s differences. But because society has made it clear that the most acceptable way to live is for the duration of your life with a partner of the opposite sex, tension can arise. Since the church made it necessary in western civilization to become married before having sex, couples have tied the knot over the centuries. The church also made it clear that staying married for the rest of your life is important, “until death do us part.” This has set a trap for young people who were just looking to have sex without the glaring eyes of God upon them. The long relationship leaves each gender feeling different from the other – feelings of being “unloved, inadequate, cynical, apathetic or ashamed.” (Conner, 2010).
Males have a thicker right hemisphere of the brain and this is a reason for many males to not express feelings. Men typically hold their emotions in until they burst out, while women express themselves freely. Holding in feelings is a typical role that society presents to men, having them believe they must act this way. Men separate languages in the left side of their brain while emotions are designated to the right. Female emotions function on both sides of the brain. Men develop a large vocabulary in the left hemisphere, while typical women use their emotions to produce language. (Allison, 2012).
Another study explores the difference in mathematical reasoning ability in the opposite sex. The results can be used to predict which sex could have greater achievement in mathematics and science. The results indicated there is a sexual difference among the tested students, and it showed that both environmental and biological factors have great influence on young’s logistic ability. (Benbow, 1988)
In another study, researchers investigated how males and females respond in the face of children and infants in various situations such as crying. The result showed that a list of factors affect responses greatly. The factors included culture difference, relationship with children, and severity of the situation. And sex difference was observed in a majority of cases. (Berman, 1980).
Researchers have analysed large numbers of high school test scores over the past few decades. Surprisingly, the well-documented sex differences in course subjects such as grammar and mathematics has disappeared. Many reasons can be used to explain this phenomenon, but it is hard to determine the most logistic explanation. More studies can be done to test this phenomenon. (Feingold, 1988).
Over the years, researchers have been studying differences between the brains in opposite sex. Scientists were able to use the finding to build a bridge between the sex differences in brain structure and function and the differences in the way males and females process information. But current understanding is skin-deep, more research will make clear the mystery of sex differences. (Gray, 2011).
Research has only recently launched into a new era. One can only assume that the male superiority that has been so clearly etched into society between the two sexes has at least dissipated slightly over the last several decades. Prior to a somewhat equal contemporary stature that men and women share, scientists have never quite held a woman’s mind equally to a man’s, and this has hindered what could have been great progress in the evolution of researching the phycology of each gender. (Conner, 2010).
While the studies are far-reaching, there is consensus in the scientific community that the general intelligence of men and women are equal. However, scientists continue to study and determine whether any particular gender has a higher intelligence in any specific area. Over the years, research has suggested that men are a bit better than their female counterparts at hand-eye coordination and math problem solving. However, women are thought to be more skillful at memorization and math calculations. Note, though, that the research generalizes and skillsets should be taken on a case-to-case basis. (Smythe, 2011).
It is difficult to determine whether men and women differ because of the way each sex has been treated throughout history. For example, if men didn’t establish themselves as the dominant gender – due in the Neanderthal sense to their large stature and dominant strength over women — would there be much of a difference in the way each gender thinks? An interesting look at this theory is the number of women who are in fields such as the sciences. Only about 10 per cent of women were in science-related positions in major United States universities. (Smythe, 2011).
Is this due to the fact that fewer women are interested in the sciences or are women less capable than men at being adept in the sciences? It is also possible that women are being discriminated against in the science teaching job market.
It’s interesting to note that the male and female brains aren’t altogether that different. In fact, they are extremely similar. But the question remains: why do men and women behave so differently? The brain changes its behavior based on outer circumstances. Even the structure of the brain can change when life scenarios are factored in. If the same signal is replicated over time, the networks that the signals are sent through become stronger. While the brain’s hardware is unchanged, the way this hardware is used alters and then echoes throughout evolution. (Fisk, 2011).
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