There are definitive differences between the brains of girls and boys
Welcome to the brain matter gender divide. A place where the brains of men have long been found to be larger than those of women. Where test after study after scan has found that men have a higher brain volume than women. Here, the gender gap is underscored, underlined and, as recently shown in a study undertaken by Stuart Ritchie at the University of Edinburgh, underwhelmed. Want to know what the study uncovered when it came to the difference between the female and the male when it comes to brains, ability and technical ingenuity?
The study didn’t uncover any proof that men were smarter than women or women were smarter than men. It just showed that there were some differences, but mostly the brains were defined by their similarities.
According to Ritchie, using data from 2,750 women and 2,466 men, the results showed that tended to vary much more than women when it came to brain volume and cortical thickness. Cortical thickness is associated with high scores on general intelligence and cognitive tests, and women have significantly thicker cortices than men. While the numbers also showed that men were more variable with greater volumes in nearly every other subcortical region, when the brain size measurements were added in and the final results tallied, the research found that the brains were mostly the same.
A study by Daphna Joel, a behavioural neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University, has found that there is no way to slot brains into ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ definitions. They are too similar, and too varied. In fact, the study made a point of creating patterns that were allocated to either a ‘male’ or ‘female’ characteristic and then placing these over brain scans to determine gender. What they found was that most brains were a mixed bag of both. Only around 8% of the brains scanned had all male or all female characteristics.
Joel told Science Mag that: “There is no one type of male brain or female brain.”
So, what does that mean for all those girls who yearn to build planes, design buildings, stand on factory floors, investigate chemicals and invent machines? It means that they can stop thinking that they can’t.
Women have always been welcome additions to the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and some of the differences found between the male and female brain work in their favour when it comes to their transition from schoolgirl to engineering genius. One of these is outlined in an article by Dr Gregory Jantz in Psychology Today. He highlights research that shows how women tend to use ten times more white matter for activity while men use seven times more grey matter. What this means, when cutting to the heart of the matter (sorry) is that girls tend to be more capable of multitasking and can transition more quickly between tasks. A very useful skill for someone who has decided to enter the field of chemical engineering, for example…
Girls just as easily explore spatial concepts and dimensions as boys. Girls can just as easily focus on a complex task and look to ingenious ways of solving it as boys. Girls are just as excited by the whirr of a machine, the swing of a blade and the scent of oil as boys.
They just need to be given the toys and opportunities that boys are given so that they can develop these skills from a young age and become confident in their abilities.
One of the biggest challenges facing the male and female brain today is that the toys and opportunities presented to girls are rarely the same as those presented to boys.
“I recently went on a tour at a school where they separated the boys and the girls,” says Sandra Mellingham. “I asked the teacher what the difference was between their lessons. Her reply was that the boys were taught in terms of trucks and engines while the girls were taught in terms of fairies and unicorns. When I asked her what happened if the girls wanted trucks and engines, her silence was deafening.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of organisations and opportunities for girls to embrace their love of trucks and engines, like Young Engineers. We believe in giving every gender a chance to explore their inner engineer – inspiring them to find their own solutions to tricky engineering problems through support, patience and ingenuity.
It’s time to break the gender mould. Happy Women’s Month to all those girls who embrace their inner engineer and only use moulds to make parts, not to define their futures.
Article by Jessi Sunkel, Young Engineers.