When it comes to the human brain, just about any adult will tell you men and women don’t think alike. Researchers know these differences are not just in our imagination. Neuroscientists taking a deeper look at brain tissue have found that there are a number of significant differences between the brains of men and women.
The basic differences probably won’t surprise you. Men tend to have larger skeletons including larger skulls than women, which allow room for larger brains. An average man’s brain is between 15 and 20 percent bigger than an average woman’s brain. This means that a man’s brain has more total neurons or brain cells. But the location of those extra neurons is not consistent. Studies show that women have up to 11 percent more neurons in the brain’s cerebral cortex – that’s the language and music section of the brain. Both men’s and women’s brains are divided down the middle into right and left sides. Women’s brains communicate more effectively from side to side because women have more connections between the two halves of the brain.
Women may seem to be at a disadvantage with their smaller brains. Researchers believe women may be at higher risk of developing dementia as they age simply because having fewer neurons means each neuron is more important to the overall function of the brain. But young boys are more prone to developing brain function conditions including mental retardation, autism, stuttering, and other problems. This is because boys are born with larger heads and brains than girls, but they are also born with slower metabolisms. Lower heart and breath-rates means boys’ bodies are not always able to keep up with the demands for energy and oxygen from their larger brains. If these needs are not met, boys’ brains may be at higher risk for damage early in life.
Some changes in the physical brain structure take place early in the development of a baby inside his or her mother’s womb. Other changes in the brain take place during puberty when male and female hormone levels rise and other sexual characteristics become prominent.