Men are from Mars, women are from Venus? New brain study says not

Research published yesterday, showing that brains don’t come in male and female forms, fits with what we know about gendered behaviour.   Authors say scans show need to think beyond an individual’s sex as each brain has unique “mosaic” of sex-based features plus some common to both sexes . If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, no one told the organ that matters most. There is no sharp division between male and female brains, according to researchers who found that we are all a mixture instead.

Scientists analysed brain scans of more than 1400 men and women and found that while some features are more common in one sex than the other, each person’s brain has a unique “mosaic” of these features, as well as others seen commonly in both.

What we show is that there are multiple ways to be male and female, there is not one way, and most of these ways are completely overlapping,” said Daphna Joel, a psychology professor who led the study at Tel-Aviv University.

Michael Bloomfield, a psychiatrist at University College London, said that while the study found no evidence for a female or male type of brain, we need a more nuanced understanding of similarities and differences in brain structure between the sexes.  “This is important, as many mental illnesses are more common in one sex over the other and we still don’t understand why this is. Understanding this could well help us understand some of the biological mechanisms that give rise to these illnesses, which could then enable the development of better targeted treatments. Important questions remain, such as whether the sexes tend to have differences in brain chemistry and how this may relate to brain function.

“If the results of this study are replicated and related to thinking and behaviour, this study would not support the view that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Instead, they lend support to ideas proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, that our minds may be part male, part female … whatever that means,” he said.


The volumes (green = large, yellow = small) of brain regions in 42 adults, showing the overlap between the forms that brains of females and brains of males can take. Photograph: Image courtesy of Zohar Berman and Daphna Joel

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