Gender and Life

Are men and women wired differently?
Answered by Diana Bocco and Discovery Channel
  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Research shows men's brains don't work the same way that women's brains work. More than being a factor of cultural differences or upbringing, it's because the sexes are simply wired differently from birth.

    Surprisingly, studies show that many of the stereotypes hold true when looking at brain scans. Women's brains have stronger reactions to emotions and decision-making processes, and men's have stronger reactions when exposed to sex. Other results are a bit less obvious. For example, the frontal lobe of the brain, which is in charge of short-term memory and problem-solving, is larger and more developed in women.

    Perhaps even more telling is how the brain processes negative emotions. According to a study conducted at the University of California Irvine, when men and women are exposed to negative emotions such as fear and aggression, their brains respond differently. In men, the section of the brain that processes these emotions is connected to the area that controls motor actions and visual clues. In women, the negative emotions are processed in an area connected to sensors that regulate breathing, blood pressure and heart rate [source: Live Science]. According to the study's researchers, this might explain why women are more tuned in to dealing with emotions and internal stressors such as childbirth. This also might explain why experts believe women's brains are wired to "tend and befriend" or to show more empathy, perhaps even during stressful times, while men's brains are wired more aggressively.

    Men and women are even wired differently when it comes to pain response. Research shows that women need more morphine than men to achieve pain relief. This is because the part of the brain that controls the pain response (the mu opioid receptor) is less developed in women. As a result, a woman's brain reacts more slowly to the painkiller, yet a man has higher levels of the receptor and experiences pain relief faster. Women are also wired to experience pain more intensely and to respond to it differently. Experts believe this might be because their brains are wired for "survival of the species." Simply put, if you seek help for the pain, you reduce the chances of experiencing serious complications and more likely survive. 

    Perhaps more surprising are findings regarding gender and language. In women, the brain is wired to process language in both the right and left hemispheres. As a result, women are more likely to excel in language-associated thinking and to possess superior language skills [source: Archives of Neurology]. This wiring also affects susceptibility to communication-related disorders. Men are more prone to conditions such as dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Tourette syndrome.

    A woman feeds a gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) nuts and berries from her hand in a field dominated by beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), on Bandera Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Cascade Range, Washington. (Steven Kazlowski/Science Faction/Corbis)

    More answers from Diana Bocco »

  2. The differences between the sexes make for good fodder and sometimes for frustration in relationships. Many of the differences can be chalked up to how we're wired - - or more accurately, to distinctions in how our brains work. For example, women seem to be able to multitask while listening. The reason that women seem to be able to do other things while conversing is that they use both sides of their brains when listening. Men, on the other hand, only use the brain's left side when listening [source: BBC]. Furthermore, men process other men's voices differently than women's voices. According to a study conducted by the University of Sheffield, this phenomenon might be due to the fact that women's voices transmit more complex information. When a man listens to a woman, the area of the brain that processes music is activated. When a man listens to another man, however, the region of the brain that's connected with imagery is activated.

    Women also seem to be more empathetic than men. According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the female brain is wired to empathize and the male brain is characterized by its tendency to systemize. The male brain seeks to develop a set of logical rules that guide another person's behavior. When a man can't understand someone else's behavior through logic, he tends to become confused about how to proceed [source: Kanazawa]. Women, on the other hand, may be more empathetic because their brains' mirror neurons are more sensitive than men's. Mirror neurons cause us to imitate emotions and actions that we're exposed to. One theory is that women's mirror neurons allow them to more easily hone in on another person's emotional cues.

    More answers from Discovery Channel »

Still Curious?
  • What was the purpose of PlanetOut?

    Answered by Megan Smith

  • What is intersex?

    Answered by Discovery Fit & Health

  • Why aren't there more than two sexes?

    Answered by Meredith Bower and Discovery Fit & Health


What are you curious about?

Image Gallery