Beyond Venus and Mars

It’s a New Year and 2014 has arrived. As we gaze across the as yet untainted panorama of the year ahead we hope that it will hold unity and peace. At the same time though, we know that the unity will have to arise in spite of difference. There is nothing wrong with difference, in fact it is the spice, essence, and driving force of life. This is embodied in the differences that exist between women and men and a new study has shown that even though our brains have the same basic structure, at the level of how the brain is wired there are substantial differences between the sexes.

The new study was one of the most extensive to attempts to compare what is called the “connectome” of male and female brains. The connectome is a map of the neural connections between different parts of the brain and these researchers examined almost 1,000 brains to people aged between eight and 22 to see how they would compare. They used magnetic resonance imaging to track water travelling along nerve fibres. These water pathways produce a map of connections within the brain.

The results showed that female and male brains are wired in substantially different ways, but there is a chemistry to that difference.

Females were found to have greater connectivity between the left and right hemispheres of the brain in the cerebrum. However, men showed greater connectivity within each hemisphere of the cerebrum. By contrast in the cerebellum women showed greater connectivity within hemispheres while men showed greater connection between the hemispheres.

The overall differences in connectomes suggest that women will be better at integrating the intuition of the right hemisphere with the analysis and sequential processes of the left hemisphere. Men, on the other hand, will be more adept at co-ordinated action where the cerebellum and the cortex make use of the sensory input from the back of the brain.

The differences also explain why women are better at multi-tasking and problem solving in group situations while men are better at learning and performing single tasks.

None of this is a basis for any arrogance on the part of either sex. Rather, it is a prompt to marvel at the complementarity and synchronicity of our species, and all species. Seeing ourselves as separate, Venus and Mars characters, we are interesting organisms but as a single unified species humans carry within them immense capacity and undeniable cosmic potential.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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