The differences between the brains of men and women have long been the subjects of studies and debates. However, British scientists now claim that half the population has ‘androgynous’ brains between male and female extremes. That would make them less susceptible to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
There are few points in the debate on men’s and women’s brains that all experts agree on. It is certain that men’s brains are on average about 10% larger than those of women, which does not mean that they are smarter. Many myths have also been clearly refuted, such as the mistaken idea that women have a wider brain bar – the part that connects both hemispheres – and can therefore multitask better.
In 2015, a study, led by Israeli researchers, stated unequivocally that only a very small percentage of the population has a distinctly male or female brain. The vast majority would have a ‘mosaic brain’, with both male and female characteristics.
However, scientists at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom conclude in a new study that about half of all individuals do indeed have a previously male or female brain. The other half has, in their words, androgynous brains. Their brain characteristics are located between the male and female poles.
The British researchers assume that the connectivity between different parts of the brain is different in men and women. They analyzed those differences in connectivity in 9,620 people (4,495 men and 5,125 women), using a machine-learning algorithm. They identified about 25% of the brain as male, 25% as female and 50% as androgynous.
Remarkably, it was found that individuals with an androgynous brain had fewer mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. According to the scientists, this is in line with the benefits associated with so-called ‘psychological androgyny’, in which people have a combination of personality traits that are considered stereotypical male or female. In general, people in this category would not only be better protected against psychological complaints, but would also have better social skills and be able to switch between tasks and thoughts better.
The researchers point out that the brain is variable to a certain extent and that androgynous brains are likely to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. So your brain could become an androgyner over the course of your life. The scientists are asking for further research to understand which things change the brain’s androgyny and specifically how environmental factors such as education have an impact on them. In any case, the discussion on men’s and women’s brains is anything but settled.
Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.