Study Debunks Notion of Gender-Based Brain Differences

Scientists studying in a labA study published in NeuroImage has found no significant differences between men and women in hippocampal size, suggesting there are only minimal differences between male and female brains.

The hippocampus—a seahorse-shaped brain region—aids in short and long-term memory production and also links emotions to senses. Some research suggests the hippocampus is much larger in women, which may support the stereotype that women are more emotionally expressive than men. Differences in hippocampal size have also been used to explain why women tend to have higher rates of mental health issues than men.

No Significant Brain Differences Between Men and Women

Lise Eliot, an associate professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University, led the study. To explore brain-based gender differences, Eliot and her team combed through 76 previous studies of gender-based brain differences. The studies involved MRIs of more than 6,000 healthy people.

Meta-analyses such as this one allow researchers to compare data across studies, offering a larger sample size and potentially correcting for bias and researcher error. Eliot’s study made adjustments for brain volume, because men typically have slightly larger brains than women. After making this adjustment and comparing the data from all 76 studies, the researchers found no significant gender differences in hippocampus size.

Debunking Other Brain-Based Gender Myths

This is not the first time follow-up research has failed to replicate supposed gender differences. Previous research, the study’s authors point out, said men and women showed size differences in the corpus callosum—the brain region that connects the two hemispheres. Researchers have also said men’s and women’s brains process language differently. Large meta-analyses, however, have debunked these findings.

This study, the research team says, is part of a mounting pile of evidence that gender-based brain differences may be exaggerated.

References:

  1. Mental Health Statistics: Men & Women. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-statistics/men-women/
  2. Reynolds, E. (2015, October 30). Male and female brain differences negligible, says Rosalind Franklin University study (Wired UK). Retrieved from http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-10/30/male-female-brain-difference-not-significant
  3. Tan, A., Ma, W., Vira, A., Marwha, D., & Eliot, L. (2015). The human hippocampus is not sexually-dimorphic: Meta-analysis of structural MRI volumes. NeuroImage, 124, 350-366. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.08.050

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  • Lindley

    Lindley

    November 2nd, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    Whoo hoo! It’s about time!!

  • Nicholas

    Nicholas

    November 3rd, 2015 at 2:36 AM

    How does no difference in hippocampus size turn into “debunk notion of brain differences?”

  • LIndley

    LIndley

    November 3rd, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Because I am assuming that if people thought that this part of the brain was larger in women then we were going yo be more emotional and therefore less intellectual. But since there is now shown to be no overall difference in size, then this is not the case at all.

  • louise

    louise

    November 4th, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    I would suspect that over the years researchers have made their studies say what they wanted them to say. If they wanted to show that women were less able to do things intellectually then they could skew their results to “show” that. Honestly I think that women have gotten the short end of the stick historically.

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