How Male and Female Brains Differ (cont.)
Consider these recent findings. Researchers, using brain imaging technology that captures blood flow to "working" parts of the brain, analyzed how men and women process language. All subjects listened to a novel. When males listened, only the left hemisphere of their brains was activated. The brains of female subjects, however, showed activity on both the left and right hemispheres.
This activity across both hemispheres of the brain may result in the strong language skills typically displayed by females. "If there's more area dedicated to a set of skills, it follows that the skills will be more refined," says David Geary, PhD, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.
As a whole, girls outperform boys in the use of language and fine motor skills until puberty, notes Denckla. Boys also fall prey to learning disabilities more frequently than girls. "Clinics see a preponderance of boys with dyslexia," Denckla tells WebMD. ADHD also strikes more boys than girls. The symptoms displayed by girls and boys with ADHD differ, too. Girls with ADHD usually exhibit inattention, while affected boys are prone to lack of impulse control. But not all differences favor girls.
Boys generally demonstrate superiority over female peers in areas of the brain involved in math and geometry. These areas of the brain mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls, according to a recent study that measured brain development in more than 500 children. Researchers concluded that when it comes to math, the brain of a 12-year-old girl resembles that of an 8-year-old boy. Conversely, the same researchers found that areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills (such as handwriting) mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys.
So, do these sex differences even out over time?
Females and males maintain unique brain characteristics throughout life. Male brains, for instance, are about 10% larger than female brains. But bigger doesn't necessarily mean smarter.
Disparities in how certain brain substances are distributed may be more revealing. Notably, male brains contain about 6.5 times more gray matter -- sometimes called 'thinking matter" -- than women. Female brains have more than 9.5 times as much white matter, the stuff that connects various parts of the brain, than male brains. That's not all. "The frontal area of the cortex and the temporal area of the cortex are more precisely organized in women, and are bigger in volume," Geary tells WebMD. This difference in form may explain a lasting functional advantage that females seem to have over males: dominant language skills.
How Males and Females Use Mental Skills
Geary suggests that women use language skills to their advantage. "Females use language more when they compete. They gossip, manipulate information," he says. Geary suggests that this behavior, referred to as relational aggression, may have given females a survival advantage long ago. "If the ability to use language to organize relationships was of benefit during evolutionary history, and used more frequently by women, we would expect language differences to become exaggerated," he tells WebMD. Women also use language to build relationships, theorizes Geary. "Women pause more, allow the other friend to speak more, offer facilitative gestures," he says.