Can Brains be Male or Female?

Have you and your girlfriends ever mused together about how “the male brain” only processes information about sports, sex and food? Or maybe you’ve heard comedians joke about how “women’s brains” have endless room for remembering men’s slip-ups so they can throw them back in their faces someday?

While the idea of brain differences between men and women has found its way into pop culture wisdom, it has actually long been an area of controversy among researchers.

A study released late 2015 casts new doubt on whether brains can be male or female.

Researchers led by Daphna Joel of Tel Aviv University published the study “Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers looked at the MRI exams of more than 1,400 men and women. Based on what they found, they concluded that “human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain.”

There are indeed gender differences in brains and behaviors, according to the study, but most of our brains are “comprised of unique ‘mosaics’ of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males.” Brains with characteristics that are purely “male” or “female” are rare.

The new research supports what I argued in my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In the book, I explained that, yes, there are some common ways that men behave and that women behave, but those aren’t the only ways. Research shows that there are more differences within groups of men and within groups of women than between the sexes. In other words, you can’t say that all men or all women do a certain thing. The behaviors you might blame on your husband’s “male brain” are more likely due to the messages he received growing up about what it means to be a man.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, though, is that whether a person’s behavior is caused by a brain characteristic or what he or she learned from others, it’s always possible to learn new ways of being. After all, recent brain research has also demonstrated the power of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change in response to our experience.

How would you rate your own brain? Does it seem more female, more male or — as the researchers described most of the brains they studied — more of a “mash-up”? Share your thoughts in comments or on my social media channels.