Male vs. Female Brains

The male and female human brains are different. Some of the better documented differences are similar to differences seen in other mammals. They are hard to find, very small, and may or may not be of great significance. Obviously, some are very important because they probably relate to such things as the ability … or lack thereof … to bear offspring. But this is hardly ever considered in the parodies we see of these differences.

[Repost from Gregladen.com]

You have all seen the sometimes funny, sometimes not cartoon depictions of these differences, for example this one:

Obviously, this is in part a joke: If you looked at someone’s brain, you would not find it to be structured in this way at all. These vastly different “regions” are meant to lampoon culturally widespread perceptions of male-female differences in overall behavior, attitude, etc. by showing huge corresponding brain differences in the cartoon. It is interesting to consider that the differences purported in this sort of cartoon are huge, but the actual neurological differences we see in the real brains are small.

But what about these differences? It is often said that behind every stereotype there is some reality, or that everything no matter how fanciful has a grain of truth, etc. These are utterly idiotic things to say. If you were just now thinking that you kinda agree with these statements, please reconsider. Consider the possibility that people can habitually say or believe something and it is nothing close to, and not remotely based on, any kind of truth. Like that the stars are jewels stuck to the inside of an overturned bowl. That is not even close to the truth.

In almost all cartoon comparative neuroanatomy, males brains have large “sex” regions while female brains have large “don’t want sex” regions (such as a headache generator). This probably means that the person who drew the cartoon is either a teenage male or an older male who is too geeked-out to get dates. That is why he has time to draw these cartoons.

Other differences shown in the cartoons relate to language. These usually denigrate the female half of the equation (the “talk, talk, and more talk” region). It is interesting to note that in real life females have fewer language-related deficits than males, and can often engage in two conversations simultaneously, which most men can not do. It is possible that the language related differences, or some of them, relate to the difference between males and females in the number of connections between the left and right hemispheres (females have way more).

Other differences shown in many cartoons are obviously generation and subculture dependent. For instance, the ability to program a VCR and the fixation on the remote. I live with two females, and one of them is the only person in the house who can program the VCR. I can do it if I need to, but I threw out the directions and it will take me a while to figure out, and blood will be spilled and profanities uttered. Both of my female house mates are about as fixated on the remote as I am. They tend to be able to find it more easily than I can, because their ancestors were gatherers and finding the remote is roughly the same thing as finding nuts, berries, and most importantly, plant underground storage organs. I, on the other hand, descend from a long line of hunters, so I tend to hunt the remote. Hunting, as is well known, tends to yield a more inconsistent return. So most of the time I don’t find any remote at all, and now and then, I find three or four of them in one episode of searching.

In any event, I think the cartoon depictions of male vs. female brains have two functions. One is as a means of examining cultural attitudes towards sex differences. Cultural distinctions, cultural activities, enculturated values, beliefs, and abilities tend to be both much more dramatic and much less controllable or adjustable than so-called “biological” differences. (Which is the opposite of what most people believe.) The cartoons tell us more about the cartoonist than about the object of the cartoon’s message. Also, it is interesting to note that some of the sex differences shown in the cartoons … which are presumably always of heterosexual cartoon brains … are part of the widely enculturated beliefs about homosexuality. A gay man understands, appreciates, and is generally into shoes (men or women’s shoes). Gay men understand the difference between wants and needs. And so on. However, we rarely if ever see the gay vs. straight brain cartoon. Off hand, I can think of no examples.

Which reminds me, if you are interested, please post a comment pointing to any brain difference cartoons you think are interesting or at least (from some perspective or another) funny. If I get enough, and they are sufficiently interesting, I’ll make a post that has them all as a kind of Web Museum of Brain Difference Cartoons. I could use it in class.

The other, closely related, function of these cartoons is as a touchstone to beliefs about how the brain works regardless of sex differences. For instance, the brain seems to function, according to these cartoons, to regulate sexual behavior, linguistic activities, and grooming or household activities. I find it interesting that these cartoons rarely reference thermoregulation, which absolutely counts as a perceived sex differences, and is definitely regulated in the brain.

Comments

  1. #1 rehana
    November 22, 2007

    Not a cartoon, but an interesting look at what some people want to believe: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004989.html

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