If we were to examine a high school calculus classroom or the staff at an engineering program of a college or university, chances are that the male to female ratio would be significantly skewed. Why are women and men so different in their choices and behavior? The brunt of popular opinion focuses on the environmental cues that lead to our distinct behaviors. But is there also an innate biological basis to the choices and differing abilities between men and women? Cognitive functioning or brain processing differences in the two genders has been a point of interest and contention for many years. The purpose of this essay is to explore if neuroanatomical and genetic differences between ...view middle of the document...
Contrary to popular belief, gender and anatomical sex refer to two distinct and separate constructs as each develops at different times and in different parts of the body. John Money coined the phenomenon that codes for masculinity or femininity as "Gendermaps" (1). At a very early age and through an interaction of both nature and nurture, this gendermap imprint is established. What makes gender identification and sex so frequently parallel to each other is that gendermap evolvement is notably also induced by hormones that emanate from the developing fetus (1).
Though there are many similarities in the cognitive abilities of men and women, there are also discernible differences. For the most part, the behavioral differences between the intellectual capacities of the sexes have to do more with patterns of ability than the actual intellectual capacity (3). For one, attention and perception differ early on. Baby girls have been noted to gaze longer at objects than baby boys. Later they rely on landmarks and memory for guidance. Boys on the other hand, have a better visual-spatial ability such as aiming at stationary or moving targets and detecting minor movements in their visual fields more easily. The fact that males perform better in navigation seems to agree with the possible theory that evolutionarily, many of these abilities would have been important for survival in the time of hunter-gatherer societies, where males navigated unfamiliar terrain while hunting, and females foraged more nearby areas gathering food (3). Another difference is their verbal ability. Women have been repeatedly shown to excel in language and tasks that involve manual dexterity and perpetual speed such as visually identifying matching items. Men appear to have an advantage in tasks requiring quantitative and reasoning abilities and excel in math as well as science (14).
There are epidemiological suggestions that there may be neuroanatomic differences contributing to the cognitive functioning of males and females, although the literature is by no means conclusive. While it would be ethically suspect to make any conclusions based on observational anatomic research - it is useful to distill the anatomic differences cited in the literature to date.
Comparison in size shows that the male brain is on average 10% larger than the brain of females, although women usually have a larger percentage of information-processing gray matter. A greater proportion of gray matter suggests a greater processing capacity. This explains why the belief that greater head size indicates greater intelligence is invalid in this instance. Women, albeit smaller have more efficient brains - thus explaining why the sexes score similarly on intelligence tests (9). Magnetic Resonance Imaging has shown that male brains contain more white matter and cerebrospinal fluid than females, which may contribute towards...