Ever wondered what the difference is between the male and female brain?
In the largest brain-imaging study of its kind, scientists found distinctions in sex-specific brain patterns as well as multiple similarities between the brains of males and females.
The study was conducted by a research team headed up by Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. To conduct the study, researchers used data from UK Biobank, a long-term biomedical study of people living in the United Kingdom. The on-going study is home to 500,000 enrollees.
Ritchie and his colleagues used a subset of data reporting the MRI brain scans of over 5,000 men and women between the ages of 44-77 enrolled in UK Biobank. The researchers examined the volume of 68 regions in the brain along with the thickness of the cerebral cortex, an important factor in multiple brain functions including language and memory.
The team found that on average women tended to have significantly thicker cortices than men, often resulting in higher scores on cognitive and intelligence tests. Men tended to have higher brain volumes than women in every region examined.
The study emphasized many sex-linked patterns, but also provided significant overlap between the brains of men and women in brain volume and cortex thickness. If presented with a random brain scan, it would be difficult for a researcher to determine if it came from a male or a female.
It’s still uncertain whether these findings have any relationship to intelligence and behavior. For now, Ritchie’s goal is to point out the differences in male and female brains, not speculate about what those differences could indicate.
Photo by Stroganova, CC0
Chamberlain Smith is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.