A new study by Tel Aviv University (TAU), released last week, suggests that male and female brains have more in common than traditionally accepted.
The study, led by TAU’s Professor Daphna Joel, examined 1,400 brain scans and compared their anatomical features, such as tissue thickness or volume, and determined that while there are certain characteristics which appear more commonly in one gender, it is extremely rare to find a human brain which contains only – or even mostly – characteristics associated with a single gender.
Joel was inspired by an earlier study of rat brains, which concluded that just 15 minutes of exposure to certain stimuli could change brain characteristics from typically “male” to typically “female”. Her new study, completed in in conjunction with other Tel Aviv University researchers, as well as scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig and the University of Zurich, was published November 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Joel is a member of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience. According to a TEDx talk she delivered in 2012, she became interested in the topic while preparing to teach a course in the psychology of gender four years earlier.
For the recent study, she and her team sorted the anatomical characteristics uncovered in four sub-sets of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans by male, female and “intersex” dominance, according to their statistical appearances. Between 23 and 53 percent of individual brain scans showed both male and female characteristics, while between zero and eight percent showed only male or female characteristics. The researchers also used a similar approach to analyze psychological and behavioural scores from two prior studies that covered more than 5,000 participants, reaching the same conclusions.
“In this study, we sought to examine if there are two types of brains – male and female – just as there are two separate and distinct types of genitalia,” The Times of Israel quoted Joel saying. “There’s no doubt that there are differences between men and women, and studies have even found differences between the brains of women and the brains of men. But this doesn’t mean that any individual person has a ‘female brain’ or a ‘male brain’.”
According to Joel, the results of this study should prompt society to reconsider the assumption that men are distinctly different from women and should therefore be treated accordingly. While there are certainly physical and social distinctions between the genders, most of us are a mosaic of both male and female neurological and psychological traits.