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Health & Balance

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How Male and Female Brains Differ

Researchers reveal sex differences in the brain's form and function.

How Males and Females Use Mental Skills continued...

While the brain allows us to think, it also drives our emotions. It may not come as a surprise, then, that the ability to identify and control emotions varies between sexes.

"Women are faster and more accurate at identifying emotions," says Ruben Gur, PhD, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Studies have shown women to be more adept than men at encoding facial differences and determining changing vocal intonations.

Women, as a whole, may also be better than men at controlling their emotions. Gur and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania recently discovered that sections of the brain used to control aggression and anger responses are larger in women than in men.

Gender-Based Skills Overlap and Complement

Recent studies that highlight sex-associated brain differences may lead us to believe that men and women have little in common upstairs. That's not the case. "Men and women do have lots of brain areas that are the same," Geary tells WebMD. Moreover, members of both sexes excel at skills that are commonly labeled gender specific. "All of these things have overlapping distributions. There are many women with better-than-average spatial skills, and men with good writing skills," Geary says.

Some researchers believe that nurturing one's brain can enhance what nature has provided. Consider, for instance, the general superiority of males' spatial abilities. "There's a lot of evidence that we build up our brain's representation of space by moving through it," Denckla tells WebMD. As anyone who spends a significant time around children knows, boys tend to get a lot more practice "moving through space" -- chasing a ball, for instance -- than girls do. "My hypothesis is that we could possibly erase this difference if we pushed girls out into the exploratory mode," Denckla says. She predicts that as more and more girls engage in sports traditionally reserved for boys, like soccer, the data on spatial ability will show fewer disparities between females and males.

Others believe brain variations between sexes are for the best. "Most of these differences are complementary. They increase the chances of males and females joining together. It helps the whole species," Gur says.

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