Battle of the Sexes

How Brain Differences Might Fuel Our Fights

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Since the dawn of modern man, men and women have been struggling to be understood by one another. It turns out that biological differences between men and women extend far beyond reproductive body parts. There are distinct differences in brain structure, chemistry and function that affect what we say, remember, see, feel and hear -- all of which might have implications for quarreling couples. If men and women are wired differently, could being aware of this difference help couples get along better?

Brain Biology

The brain is divided into the right and left hemispheres, and is comprised of lobes, regions, neurons and glands. The left hemisphere is the logical, detail-oriented side of the brain in charge of analyzing, conceiving and executing plans. The right hemisphere sees the big picture and specializes in detecting and responding to unexpected stimuli and how objects interrelate in space.

In the womb the developing brain is exposed to hormones that affect how it forms; boys get more testosterone, which favors development of the left side of the brain and girls get more estrogen, which sparks more connections throughout the brain. This, in part, explains the difference in communication and perception between the two sexes. Imaging studies have shed light on these differences as researchers examine brain parts that "light up" during verbal exchanges.

Inside a Woman's Brain

Women's language centers are bigger and they perceive and use language using both left and right sides of the brain. Women have higher level of activity all around, particularly in the frontal cortex, the executive center of the brain that anticipates consequences. Women also have larger hippocampus, the area of the brain that is the center of memory and emotion.


What It Means

High brain activity indicates they are always processing information and multi-tasking. Women want to talk things out more and tend to review things over and over. They take a circuitous route to get to the point. Their speech is more fluent; they have more to say and use more words to say it. They also zoom in on problems. They tend to remember every detail both good and bad. They have a greater biological need to have order and to solve problems.

Inside a Man's Brain

When it comes to language men are all left sided. They have less activity all around making their brains "less alert." They have a smaller corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres. The memory center is smaller and flight or flight center is bigger.


What it Means

Men tend to have a low attention span and need more novelty (like changing the channel). They prefer to get to the point directly and quickly. They are overwhelmed with too many words and use half the words women use during verbal exchanges. They tend to act first and talk later. They don't remember details. They rely more on spatial and mechanical things (hence the garage) and less in things that require words.

So What Do You Say?

Being mindful of these differences might help couples communicate more effectively. Women might fair better if they use fewer words so the man doesn't get lost in all the language. Since you may need to ask more than once, try not to nag. Realize he can only do one thing at a time.

For men it might be better if you let her talk it out and not ask her to get to the point. She needs things to get done sooner to keep the household in order. It may also be good to invest in a GPS system.