Men’s Brains, Women’s Brains, Whatever
It would seem that our society is finally starting to shake free the bonds of our outdated sexist ideology that has long dominated the culture in this country. A century ago women weren’t even allowed to vote. Today women are boldly going where men feared they would eventually go if given the chance: the boardroom, the corner office with windows, the high bench, and this list goes on as women are performing in positions that were long held for their male counterparts. Yet, this assimilation into female leadership has not been easy. Look no further than the democratic primaries from this past election and you can recall CNN making a stink about Hillary Clinton being the focus of sexism in politics, and SNL portraying Senator Clinton as a stern, somewhat butch, woman who was rigid to say the least.
Although women have broken down the equality barrier, the perceptual barrier stands tall for those who wish to be leaders and contributors to success in this country. In a study conducted with four test groups made up of equal men and women, the groups were given the job description of a vice president of the company as well as a description of personal attributes. The only factor that changed between the groups was the gender of the VP. Interestingly enough the gender change was enough to change the perceptions from group to group. Though both VPs were considered to be competent what differed between the man and woman was rather they were considered “likeable” or not. In the words of researcher and biologist John Medina, “The man was a hotdog. The woman was a bitch.” Upon reading this my mind drifted back to the primary elections of 2008 and I recall so many people saying Hillary was qualified but she wasn’t really relatable, which in mind is like saying, “she’s not that likeable.” So here we stand welcoming new players to the game yet we’re still playing by the same old rules. Something has to change.
Wait, You Mean To Tell Me Boys and Girls are Different?!?!
Amidst all this equality talk we forgot that men and women are different. For the sake of keeping with the theme of this amazing website let’s hone in on our brains. Men’s and Women’s brains differ in a variety of ways: anatomical architecture, memory formation and processing, emotions, language, vision and all that manifests itself in our behaviors. Men and women perceive differently and as a result we both operate differently. Now here is the important thing to remember, because our society gets this backwards all the time: the differences in men’s and women’s brains do NOT equate one sex performing better in general. Understanding and attuning to these differences will go along way in setting ourselves up for success in the long run.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Most people are actually unaware that the natural genetic default for creating a human life is female. This means that the blueprint for human life is a woman. So ladies, you can go tell Adam to shove it because Eve is where it’s really at and while you’re at it you can tell him to stop eating all the fruit from sacred trees, too. In primates like chimpanzees (our genetic cousins) the female chimps are often the ones that exhibit tool use and innovation in their troops.
There are anatomical differences in men’s and women’s brain in every one of the four lobes of the brain. Here are some areas where women differ for men: Women on average have a thicker (thicker is good) frontal and prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area that is associated with decision making and higher level thought. Women also have a thicker corpus callosum than men which is the bridge of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. The amygdala, an area of the brain that is related to stress and emotional response, is larger in women than in men as well.
Now it’s wrong to justify personal behaviors through neuroanatomy. However, it is right to justify the behaviors of a population of women through neuroanatomy. Relatively speaking women in general tend to have a wider range of emotions, which can be linked back to the amygdala. Looking at the corpus callosum we can also begin to see that improved conductivity between the hemispheres allows for better multitasking, something that women tend to be better at then men. Women also tend to out perform men in language ability as well, and we can link that to our prefrontal cortex. Now ladies, before you start dishing out high fives and chest bumping each other we remember the theory of balance, and for balance every positive has to have a negative.
Women are more likely to have anxiety related problems. Most anorexics are women, and women are also more likely than men to develop bouts of depression. On the other side of the coin men have a greater chance of being antisocial, developing schizophrenia, drug abuse problems, and mental retardation. You see there is just as much good stuff as potential bad stuff going on in both of our brains. The only thing that might dictate success is that task at hand.
This is extremely interesting. Two groups of men and women were shown a video of a particularly horrifying accident involving a little boy getting hit by a car. While the men and women watched the video their brain activity was
monitored by fMRI. The very sight of someone getting hit by a car is emotionally salient, yet in this study men and women showed different brain activity in their amygdala regions of the brain. The right side of the amygdala in men lit up and in women their left side of the amygdala lit up. Two weeks later the groups were asked to recall the video of the boy getting hit by the car. The men better recalled the “gist” of the video and the women better recalled the details of the video, such as the boy was holding a soccer ball. The same video produced two different perceptions and two different recollections. Put those recollections together and you have a complete memory in tact. This holds true for emotionally heightened memories like a first date or a recent argument.
Researcher Deborah Tannen did some really amazing research relating to how little boys and little girls verbally communicate with each other and how that shapes our communication patterns into adulthood. She spent a lot of time observing how kids communicate and form bonds of friendship and trust. No surprises here; boys and girls communicate very differently and girls tend to be better at it. To crudely summarize her 30 years of work girls use language and conversation to cement friendship and bonds. Along with conversation girls are great at utilizing the nonverbal aspects of conversation as well, like maintaining eye contact and physical cues. Boys on the other hand rarely make eye contact and prefer to use physicality and commotion to cement bonds of friendship and trust. The female approach to communication is “let’s do this together.” The male approach is “I can do this better than you.” This really doesn’t change all that much as we get older.
Bringing it on Home Social Intelligence Style
In regards to success social intelligence is the key determining factor. We know that there are differences in men and women and we must respect those differences. Socially intelligent people understand and realize how to get the most out of every individual. If you’re a manager and you have a team of both and women working underneath you it makes no sense to treat every person the same. We’re all different, so treat us differently, but in a way that fosters our success and harmonizes the groups’ effort. If you’re a leader, man or woman, you’re going to run into some opposition – be it a work style conflict or difference of opinion – you can better prepare yourself by understanding these differences and gaming planning proactively. Attuning to differences allows you to tailor your message and communication pattern into one that will successfully be understood by whomever it is you’re speaking with or reaching out to. In general our brains may be pretty different, but together two brains are always better than one.