Myths about differences in the brains of men and women

We intuitively feel that there are differences between males and females, but in fact the innate brain is not significantly different between males and females.

  Not long ago, a short video posted by Douyin internet celebrity “Teacher He” went viral. The content was “Why do husbands all over the world like to squat in the toilet”. This topic also caught my attention. This video reminds me of John Gray’s “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, which is the “God Book” that has dominated the global bestseller list for many years. After consulting with 25,000 people, John Gray described differences in language expression, emotion and behavior between men and women. He believes that men are creatures from Mars who are used to hiding in caves to solve problems on their own, while women are creatures from Venus whose language is more about expressing emotions. If men and women are so inherently different in their thinking and behavior, is there any scientific basis for it at the brain level?
Explanation and exploration of differences between men and women

  The book “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” is indeed well written, but it is estimated that even John Gray himself did not expect that his book would eventually be used by “male rights” and “female rights”, and packaged Various “scientific theories”, such as: boys have strong abstract thinking and girls have strong psychological intuition, boys are good at math and girls are good in Chinese, men are rational and women are emotional, and so on. These so-called “differences” between men and women have been deduced into various “male rights” or “feminist” views on the market. In fact, there have been too many gender prejudices between men and women throughout the ages. Whether it is the “Three Cards and Five Constants” in the East, or the sages of ancient Greece, they all have in-depth discussions on the differences between men and women. Aristotle believed that women are not fully developed in the womb and cannot grow male genitals. Women are inherently defective, so women must submit to men and husbands should exercise political control over their wives. Such discourses abound in the history of human thought, but most of them remain in philosophical and theoretical discussions without any scientific basis.
  Gender differences were a constant debate over the next century, but the search for differences in the brains of men and women never progressed. This is mainly because the technical conditions are immature and there are no suitable tools for studying the brain. At that time, the brains of living people could not be studied, and they could only rely on “guessing”, that is, through people’s behavior, using the “stimulus-response” model to infer how the human brain operates. This is the method used in early psychology, using observation and behavioral experiments to this day, and it is the method that John Gray used to write his masterpieces.
rational man? Sensual woman?

  You know, there is a problem with the observation method and the behavioral experiment method, that is, it is all based on people’s behavioral phenomena, and uses logic to infer how people’s brains work. However, if the experimental hypothesis is wrong, it may cause the inferred conclusions to be questionable. Once the process is wrong, the conclusion will be a thousand miles away.
  Here is a person who is very famous in the history of research on brain differences between men and women, that is Simon Barron-Cohen, a psychology and psychopathologist at the University of Cambridge, whose team published in 2000 in the international journal “Infant Behavior and Development” A paper claims that the brain also has gender, the “male brain” is more inclined to rational and logical thinking, while the “female brain” has a significant ability to empathize, and the “balanced brain” is both. Later, Barron-Cohen named this theory “empathy-systematization theory”. The theory suggests that “female” brains are inherently prone to empathy; “male” brains tend to be systematized.
  How did Barron Cohen come to this conclusion? The answer lies in the observation of more than 100 newborn babies who were not “contaminated” by their social environment. Along this line of thought, he and his colleague Jennifer Connellan spent each day in the delivery room, looking for newborn babies and showing them two types of pictures — one full of faces, The other is stitching pictures related to machinery. They then timed with a stopwatch to see which pictures the baby’s eyes focused on longer. If the baby pays attention to the face picture for a long time, its brain is an E-type brain; if it pays attention to the stitched pictures related to machinery for a long time, it is an S-type brain.
  The experimental results show that about 40% of male infants tend to view stitched pictures, while the proportion of male infants who tend to view face photos is about 25%; about 36% of girls tend to view face pictures, and tend to Only 17% view the stitched pictures. So Barron-Cohn claims that they have found a difference between male and female brains, that boys are born with a stronger interest in mechanical objects, while girls naturally have better social skills and emotional sensitivity. Over the next few years, Barron-Cohen further fleshed out his views, and his book, The Crucial Difference, was published in 2003, detailing his views on the fundamental differences in thinking between the sexes.
  Once Barron-Cohen’s theory was put forward, it was quickly widely accepted by society. People enjoyed it. It seemed that almost all the differences between men and women were explained by Barron-Cohen in an instant. For example, women can usually balance empathy and systematization. ability, and men have to use systematic ability to make up for the lack of empathy ability – no wonder there will be a “straight man thinking” that makes people complain. Even Stephen Pink, a well-known American psychologist and popular science writer, cites Barron-Cohen when he writes his book. Subsequently, this view began to be hyped up by people in the marriage and love market, because it seemed to give them the sword of marketing to make money. “Why can’t you find a girlfriend? Why can’t you communicate with your husband? It’s because you don’t understand their brains, do you want to understand your partner’s brain? Come and join the training.” So, various “gender training courses” It has sprung up all over the world.
The brains of men and women are no different

  Theories like Barron-Cohen’s are just the representative works of research on the differences between the brains of men and women at the time. In fact, from the 1960s to the 1980s, many people in the world used observational and experimental methods to explore various differences between men and women. For example, Eleanor McCorby, a psychologist at Stanford University, One way of research has found that girls are better at language than boys, and boys outperform girls in spatial and math tests. Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, found in the math part of the American Academic Aptitude Test (SAT) that the ratio of men to women with a score above 700 was 13:1, and based on this, he believed that women are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These four subject areas cannot reach the top. But these studies can also be explained by sociocultural influences.
  There are many studies like this, but what does the end say? There’s still no direct evidence, and we still don’t know exactly how the brains of men and women work. It was not until the advent of electroencephalography and brain MRI technology that the inner working mechanism of the brain was revealed for the first time, which also provided a new solution for the study of differences in the brains of men and women. In just the past 20 years, research on brain differences between men and women based on brain probing techniques has continued.

  However, the results of the brain MRI study will disappoint many people, that is, there is no significant difference between the brains of men and women. The team of Professor Liz Elliott, a neuroscientist at the Chicago School of Medicine in the United States, published research reports in the journal Neuroimaging in 2016 and 2017. They selected 68 of the research data from 4,418 subjects. 1 study involving the brain’s hippocampus and 46 studies involving the brain’s amygdala. But in different studies, men’s amygdala volume was less than 1 percent worse than women’s. That is, humans are created equal, and there is little difference between male and female brains.
  Next, Professor Elliott published a blockbuster article in the important journal Neuroscience and Biobehavior in 2021. In this study, Elliott’s team found that few reliable studies can There are gender differences in the brain. Not only that, but also in terms of brain function, which seems to be better for women, such as mental and emotional processing, men and women are also similar. Professor Elliott said there was actually no significant difference between the brains of men and women, and that the differences in behavior between men and women were the result of nurture, not that it was innate between men and women.
The brain can be both “male” and “female”

  Since there is no difference between the brains of men and women, why do we feel that men and women are different in many ways in real life? Daphna Joel, a neuroscientist at the Department of Psychology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, answered this question more comprehensively.
  In 2009, Professor Joel was preparing to start a course in gender psychology. To prepare for the lesson, Joel spent nearly a year reading extensively about the gender differences in the brain. She found that the number of studies in this area is not only large, but also seriously conflicting views, both saying that the brains of men and women are completely different, and that they are the same. If the male brain or the female brain is fixed in someone’s body, it can’t have such a rich expression. As a result, Professor Joel had a bold idea: the so-called male brain or female brain does not exist at all, the brain should be a combination of both sexes, but the degree of male or female characteristics is different in different people That’s it.
  Professor Joel quickly organized a luxurious team including researchers from well-known universities and institutes such as Tel Aviv University, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland. They performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and analyses of the brains of more than 1,400 subjects, both male and female, of all ages.
  The next step is to test her hypothesis that the brain is a combination of both sexes. She started by analyzing four large MRI datasets, and then identified several features in each that were most significantly sex-differentiated, such as the total volume of neuronal cell bodies and their dendrites and the nerve fibers connected to them. In this way, Joel measured gray and white matter in a total of 116 locations in the brain and found a continuum of sexual characteristics. Of these, the most prominent male or female traits occupy both ends of the set, while the middle segment exhibits mixed hermaphroditic traits. Next, the researchers assessed each brain region-by-region in the data set and encoded each feature.
  The results showed that only about 5% of the subjects’ brains showed a single sex, while the vast majority showed mixed characteristics. That is to say, at the brain level, in addition to the two types of genders, male and female, there are still many genders that cannot be framed by “male” or “female”, that is, the existence of so-called “intersex” states.
Deciphering the differences between men and women: genes, hormones and acquired environment

  In fact, there is no essential difference between male and female brains, but there are differences in functional performance. This can actually be understood from three aspects:
  the genetic level. With the development of modern genetic science, especially the birth of genetic testing technology, there is finally a clear answer to the debate on “congenital inheritance and acquired learning”, that is, “co-determinism of genes and environment”. On the other hand, although genes provide us with a “life script” for the drama of life, genes do not tell us how to “perform”, which requires each of us to “improvise” according to our own environment. And this ability to “improvise” comes from our ability to recognize and learn.

Can you tell the difference between the men and women in the photo?

  hormone. Hormones play a vital role in shaping the way men and women think and behave. Case in point: We have a steroid in our body called cortisol, and when people are under stress, cortisol levels increase. Research has shown that a surge in cortisol has diametrically opposite effects on how men and women make risky decisions. In very tense situations, men will choose high-cost, low-probability big successes, while women will choose small successes with more certainty.
  The shaping of the acquired environment. The acquired environment is extremely remodeling for the brain, especially the cultural environment in which we live. The BBC once did an interesting experiment: let two-year-old boys wear women’s clothes and girls wear men’s clothes, and then let volunteers play with the children’s toys without knowing it. The result: Most of the volunteers played with dolls for women dressed as children and cars for men dressed as children, and the children had a great time. As if this is what everyone agreed on: boys should play with car robots and like blue, and girls should play with furry dolls and like pink. This result shows that adults are choosing for children what they should play and what role they should play.