Archive: Womb with a View on the Brain's Big Gender Divide; Latest Research Is Considered a Breakthrough in Understanding the Differences between the Brains of Men and Women. Cate Wilson Reports

The Birmingham Post (England), March 20, 2004 | Go to article overview

Archive: Womb with a View on the Brain's Big Gender Divide; Latest Research Is Considered a Breakthrough in Understanding the Differences between the Brains of Men and Women. Cate Wilson Reports


Byline: Cate Wilson

We may joke that a sensitive man is in touch with his feminine side, but now scientists believe it's true -some men actually have female brains and vice versa.

Recent research carried out by a team at Cambridge University discovered that 17 per cent of men, almost one in five, have 'women's brains', while 14 per cent of women have masculine minds.

Others in the group were found to have asexual brains -a mix of both male and female characteristics.

Although scientists have long known there are fundamental differences between male and female brains, which influence a person's skills and behaviour, this latest research is considered a breakthrough in understanding.

The team, led by Professor Simon BaronCohen believes it may help explain why some men -such as the undeniably masculine David Beckham has several key 'female' traits such as a keen fashion sense and why certain women, for example Carol Vorderman, possess analytical skills and mathematical aptitude -two characteristics usually attributed to men.

The science The research found that the sex of our brain is decided in the womb and depends, among other factors, on the differing levels of hormone present in the amniotic fluid, which protects the baby during pregnancy.

By testing the fluid present in the wombs of 100 expectant mothers, then studying the same children on their first birthday, it found that those who had higher levels of testosterone in their fluid had male brains, while those with less had female brains.

What's the difference? Broadly speaking, female brains are programmed for empathy while male brains are governed by a need to understand and build systems -whether it is a garden shed or a crossword.

This means anyone with a female brain is driven to identify with a person's emotions and thoughts and to treat others and situations with care and sensitivity.

Those with a male brain are driven to analyse and explore situations in a bid to discover how the world works.

According to educational psychologist Gloria Raynsford, this male/female divide is apparent at an early age.

She says: 'Children, whatever their gender, tend to be divided between those who want to explore human relationships and those who want to explore their environment.

'A male characteristic, which is also seen in some girls, is an inability to consider the needs of their playmates. This could be by monopolising a toy or punching another child. They tend to be more self-centred than youngsters with female characteristics and can blunder their way into situations and act in a boisterous manner.

'Alternatively, youngsters with female characteristics tend to avoid direct conflict and are more sensitive to new situations. They tend to hold back, not because they are shy, but so they can test the sensibilities of the group before making a contribution.'

How it affects us According to the experts, the way our brain is hot-wired along male/female lines has implications throughout our lives -whether it is the way we socialise, the type of job we opt for or how successful we are in relationships. On the career front, those with female brains are more likely to enter a people profession such as nursing or teaching, while people with male-programmed brains are more likely to take a job in IT or accountancy.

Female-driven individuals are more likely to seek approval from others and be interested in keeping up with the latest trends and fitting in with their peer group.

And it may be a cliche, but women's traditional penchant for gossip is also a direct result of the female brain's drive to emphasise with a group and avoid direct confrontation with others.

Psychologist Amanda Britton says: 'People with a feminine brain or personality trait tend to be passive-aggressives. This means they are unlikely to assault somebody directly, but will instead channel their anger into a verbal snipe. …

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Archive: Womb with a View on the Brain's Big Gender Divide; Latest Research Is Considered a Breakthrough in Understanding the Differences between the Brains of Men and Women. Cate Wilson Reports
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