Islamic cultures undeniably recognize numerous differences between males and females. A large part of our societal framework is built on the basis of many of those differences.
Some gender differences can indeed originate within a cultural context. But many of those differences stem from within the biology of our human brains.
Some obvious differences of sexual dimorphism in human beings include physical build and muscle strength, as well as some gender-specific diseases like prostate cancer, for example.
There are also psychological differences between men and women. For example, studies show gender differences in spatial reasoning, a skill that allows people to successfully form relationships between objects in two and three dimensions. Driving and architectural engineering are good examples. These studies also show gender differences in aggression and emotion.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, led by Edward Suarez, found that men can tolerate sleep deprivation more than women due to the fact that women have higher levels of proteins that are linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Additionally, studies found that women live longer than men due to better immunity, reduced risk of blood diseases and lower rates of risk-taking.
Other recognized differences include driving skills, emotional stability and job preferences. For example, in the book “Gender, Nature and Nurture”, psychologist Richard Lippa at California State University writes that men tend to choose jobs that are more related to things rather than people, such as mechanics, carpentry, and football.
Women, on the other hand, mostly prefer art, teaching, or work that generally involves human interaction.
Evidently, beyond psychology, researchers were able to pin those differences to physical variations between the male and female brain structure.
A recent study conducted by Ragini Verma, an associate professor in the department of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, was able to reveal that the connections between and within hemispheres inside the male and female brains are undeniably different.
The research was conducted on nearly 1,000 individuals whose ages ranged from eight to 22, and according to Verma, it “helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks and women at others.”
The human brain is divided into two parts, known as hemispheres. Each hemisphere is responsible for certain functions. The hemispheres communicate with each other through a bundle of neural fibers called the corpus callosum.
The left hemisphere is responsible for speech, language processing and logical reasoning. The right hemisphere handles vision-independent functions, such as recognizing something by its sound, feel or taste. The right hemisphere is also responsible for spatial functions like mapping, navigation and construction. It also analyzes tones and feelings associated with heard speech, but it is not able to analyze words independently.
The study conducted by Verma, using a water-based imaging technique, was able to trace and highlight the fiber pathways connecting parts of the brain. Verma found that men have more connections within the hemispheres, while women have more connections between the hemispheres.
These results show that male brains are structured in such a way that enables them to have a better connection between perception by the five senses and actions. For example, men have better hand-eye coordination. This can explain the stereotype that suggests men are better drivers.
Female brains, however, are structured to initiate a better connection between the two hemispheres, which means that they are able to process analytical thinking and intuition or spatial reasoning together. Notably, the differences were more observed in adolescents aged 14 to 17, implying that the differences start to spark during teenage years.
This study helps to explain why men are known to excel at certain skills while women excel at others. Verbal memory and social cognition, which are associated with both the right and left hemispheres, are stronger in women. Motor skills, associated with the frontal lobe of the brain, are stronger in men.
Brain Anatomy Uncovers Truth
Previous brain imaging studies had shown that female brains have a higher percentage of gray matter, responsible for analysis and computing, while men have a higher percentage of white matter, associated with connectivity. But these studies did not clarify that the male and female brains were actually wired differently.
It’s important to point out that one question still remains unanswered. Do physical differences in brain anatomy result in a dissimilarity in brain functions between men and women, or do imposed cultural gender-based roles result in the physical differences that are observed during and after the teenage years?
Studies such as Verma’s are among many that are trying to understand the basis of gender differences and whether those differences come at birth or are imposed by society and cultural influences.
For the time being, we can embrace our differences while employing our efforts to resolve issues that develop from these differences.
This article was first published in 2014 and is currently republished for its importance.
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