7 Differences Between Male and Female Brains

Male and Female Brains

When actor Daniel Sharman (Teen Wolf, The Originals, Medici: The Magnificent) and music producer Christian “Leggy” Langdon visited Dr. Daniel Amen as part of the Scan My Brain series, they had a lot of questions. They wanted to find out what brain scans could reveal about Sharman’s feelings of depression and Langdon’s anxiety. The co-hosts of The 2 Lads Podcast, which explores what it means today to be men, had one other burning question for Dr. Amen: “Do you see a difference between the female brain and the male brain.”

The short answer is YES.

In one of the largest functional brain imaging studies ever, Amen Clinics compared the brain SPECT scans of 46,034 female and male brains. SPECT is a brain imaging technology that looks at blood flow and activity patterns. This study, which appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, revealed fascinating differences between the female and male brains.

In one of the largest functional brain imaging studies ever, Amen Clinics compared the brain SPECT scans of 46,034 female and male brains, and it revealed fascinating differences between the sexes. Click To Tweet

Here are 7 of the most important gender-based brain differences you need to know.

A word of caution: Overall, there are significant brain differences between the sexes that can be measured in a laboratory, seen on a brain scan, and observed in our everyday lives. However, not all women are the same, nor are all men the same. And there is still much research to be done to gain a better understanding of the brains of nonbinary and transgender individuals. What is clear is that even when we succeed at the same task, we may call on different strengths and areas of the brain to do it.

7 UNIQUE TRAITS OF FEMALE AND MALE BRAINS

1. Female brains are busier.

For the 2017 brain imaging study at Amen Clinics, the team analyzed 80 areas of the brain. In 70 of those regions, female brains showed significantly more activity than male brains. Overall, women have much busier brains compared with men. In problem-solving, women tend to harness several areas of the brain while men rely on a more localized effort.

2. The prefrontal cortex is “sleepier” in men.

According to the study findings, men tend to have less activity in the PFC compared with women. The PFC is involved with planning, judgment, empathy, and impulse control. This can make men more likely to take risks, which can then make them more vulnerable to head injuries that can further decrease activity in this brain area. Hearing about the differences in the PFC activity prompted record producer Langdon to say, “We’re kind of almost fighting different battles as men and women in the world. We’ve got a different set of cards that we’re starting from.”

3. The brain’s emotional centers are more active in women.

In the Amen Clinics study, female brains showed higher activity levels in the limbic system or emotional system. Situated beneath the cortex, this part of the brain colors our emotions and is involved with bonding, nesting, and emotions. This may explain why women are the primary caretakers of children and the elderly. Upon learning about the limbic brain differences in the Scan My Brain episode, Langdon says, “So it’s almost like as men, we have to work a bit harder to get access to some of those things that come a bit more naturally to women and probably vice versa.” Higher activity here is also associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

4. The anterior cingulate gyrus works harder in women.

Within the brain’s frontal lobes is an area called the ACG. Known as the brain’s gear shifter, it helps you shift attention and recognize errors. Higher activity in the ACG increases the tendency to get stuck on negative thoughts or negative behaviors and to see what is wrong rather than what is right. It is also one of the brain’s worry centers. More activity here translates into more worries. Of course, this doesn’t mean that men don’t worry or see problems. But men and women tend to worry differently.

5. Visual and coordination centers work harder in men.

These areas of the brain are more active in men and may explain why men tend to be more adept at judging distances and making a beeline to where they parked the car.

6. Women’s intuition is real.

Other brain imaging research reveals that females have larger areas in the brain dedicated to tracking gut feelings, specifically areas deep in the frontal lobes called the insula and ACG. The female brain is generally quicker at assessing the thoughts of others based on limited information, gut feelings, and hunches.

7. Serotonin systems work differently in men and women.

Production of the neurotransmitter serotonin is 52% higher in men than in women, according to a foundational brain imaging study in PNAS. A calming neurotransmitter, serotonin plays a role in mood, sleep, pain, and other issues. At Amen Clinics, low serotonin levels are often seen in people with depression, anxiety, pain syndromes, and obsessive worrying.

Learning more about how the male brain differs from the female brain led to a revelation for actor Sharman. “There are certain things that we’re going to have to work harder at as men, and that’s okay,” Sharman says in the Scan My Brain episode.

Understanding the strengths and challenges of your own brain is one of the most important keys to success. Optimizing your unique brain can help you reach your goals in every area of your life.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

26 Comments

  1. I was diagnosed years ago with Measial temporal lobe sclerosis. I don’t know what that is, and it was never explained to me. Can you tell me something about it?

    Comment by Patricia Lynn Sosebee — September 29, 2021 @ 3:13 AM

  2. Have you scanned brains of people who identify themselves as LGBTQ? How do they compare these identified differences?

    Comment by Sheldon Shalley — September 29, 2021 @ 5:14 AM

  3. Are these differences biological or are our brains trained to be different. Are there any studies on children under 3 years of age?

    Comment by Dede Erickson — September 29, 2021 @ 5:24 AM

  4. I don’t think we have to take on extra work just because we are men or women with our somewhat different brains. I just think we should appreciate the differences and support each other’s strengths.

    Comment by Karen Dale — September 29, 2021 @ 6:20 AM

  5. A very interesting article!

    Comment by Karen — September 29, 2021 @ 6:21 AM

  6. Having just turned 77, I can’t imagine doing the risky things that I found normal when I was 25, things such as mountain-climbing, skating, biking .

    Comment by Brad Young — September 29, 2021 @ 6:40 AM

  7. I am wondering if the differences between female and male brains are totally socially developed? because as far as know genetically there are no differences.

    Comment by Helga Smyth — September 29, 2021 @ 7:18 AM

  8. I wonder if the brains are sufficiently different that the Clinic could look at the studies blind and reliably sort them by gender?

    Comment by Teresa — September 29, 2021 @ 7:19 AM

  9. Thanks for this fascinating read!

    Comment by Grant Schettler — September 29, 2021 @ 7:55 AM

  10. My brain seems to bounce all over the place making it very hard to concentrate for very long.What would cause this and how can I overcome this. I’ve had several concussions in my life, around 20 to 30.

    Comment by terry woods — September 29, 2021 @ 8:10 AM

  11. Thank you so much for putting this in terms so easy to understand. I really enjoyed reading this-

    Comment by Lisa Humphries — September 29, 2021 @ 8:21 AM

  12. “And there is still much research to be done to gain a better understanding of the brains of nonbinary and transgender individuals.” Indeed there is. And yet we are barreling ahead with giving puberty blockers to CHILDREN despite our lack of knowledge in this area. How can a child give meaningful consent to such a procedure when a child has no concept of how that procedure will impact their existence as an adult? Or how it will affect their psychosocial development as an adolescent? Adolescence is when we figure out our identity. We figure it out through peer interactions. Most kids eventually find a way to make life work as a member of their natal sex. Puberty blockers prevent children from undergoing this developmental process. Also, we’re actually telling families that these procedures are reversible — that if the child realizes later that they’re not really trans, they can just stop the treatment and revert. Hormones and surgery are not reversible. Girls receiving testosterone will live the rest of their lives with a permanently lowered voice. Breasts that are removed can only be regained via breast implants, which pose major health risks, need to be replaced every 10 years, and often result in loss of nipple sensation. Teenagers of both sexes receiving cross-sex hormones experience bone loss that can never be made up, since the teen years are when bone mass is built up for adulthood. How can a child fully understand how much misery each of these situations could cause an adult? I am a total liberal politically and I’m totally comfortable with gender-bending and people choosing to live as the other sex, but this medical experimentation on children seems to be a human rights violation. We desperately need brain research from scientists who have no skin in the game. Unfortunately, any scientist who dares to publish anything that goes against the trans ideology risks professional ostracism. So how will we ever find out the truth? We really need to! We cannot be experimenting on children when we have no way of telling which kids are really trans and which are just going through a phase.

    Comment by Deborah — September 29, 2021 @ 8:22 AM

  13. In short women are smarter and more productive than men.

    Comment by Alex — September 29, 2021 @ 8:34 AM

  14. These conclusions are drawn assuming all brain activity is glucose based. Is it possible to radiolabel ketones and or fatty acids and see if fuel choice correlates with gender.

    Comment by M Reinhart — September 29, 2021 @ 9:46 AM

  15. I once read that woman’s brains are 7-8 pounds wereass men’s are 9-10 pounds generally. Is that true?

    Comment by Irene A. Valmas — September 29, 2021 @ 9:52 AM

  16. Imagine that…God created them male and female!!

    Comment by Brittney — September 29, 2021 @ 12:42 PM

  17. Wow. I’m big on the ACG, explains the constant thought, planning, and worrying, leading to negative thoughts.

    Comment by Pat — September 29, 2021 @ 1:10 PM

  18. Very interesting and corroborates other research findings that have been published. Thank you for the informative article!

    Comment by Kent T Kitagawa — September 29, 2021 @ 1:44 PM

  19. The scores are in favor of women, aren’t they? Or is it just me thinking that way?

    Comment by LaDan — September 29, 2021 @ 3:09 PM

  20. i love plants and my research into our hunter/fisher/gatherer past showed me that men hunt and women gather – also look at the interthalamic adhesion – a mess of neurones and nerve fibres that is only found in 52% of populations – mostly in women – that connects the 4 sides of the brain in the third ventricle – and is thought to be helpful in empathy – can be enhanced by meditation – why would man – the hunter, professional soldier, surgeon, dentist, butcher – need empathy when cutting into a creature to kill or heal
    at 72yrs much of my younger time was spent trying to work out me – i had a blow to the back of my head at nearly 3yrs which i have only discovered last 20yrs – it twisted my sphenoid and blocked my pituitary’s responses to my reproductive system ending with ovarian cancer at 47yrs. it blocked the energetic connection that is made during puberty from the pituitary to the pineal gland – science doesn’t understand because it is an energetic connection and we don’t understand energy especially in the human body – which is why the hindu symbol now used by the medical profession is not understood as the two snakes of energy curling around and up the spine
    traditional understanding of energy is also brought into prominence by the white halo around the head of jesus – the understanding of energy seems to be within most ancient cultural understandings and often as a snake – like south america too

    Comment by penny waters — September 30, 2021 @ 3:00 AM

  21. forgot to say – saw some research about brains some years ago and how women’s tend to go from side to side – gathering – whereas men’s tend to go from front to back – going forward and hunting – was funny cos the female ‘scientist’ was astonished when she found that men and womens brains were different – hahahaha did make me laugh
    keep up the amazing work sir – i salute you!

    Comment by penny waters — September 30, 2021 @ 3:06 AM

  22. I cannot say enough about the effectiveness of Amen Clinics brain scan. The treatment helped our loved one years ago and I just recommended it to a friend who is getting treatment for her son. Would that insurance covered this much needed treatment! Thank you for the study here. This explains a lot about my 30 year marriage!

    Comment by Lisa Cantwell — September 30, 2021 @ 6:55 AM

  23. The current culture and media is actively pushing the concept of transformation of women to men and men transferring . Will medical science speak to this issue especially regarding the brain traits discussed in this article. Is gender transformation real or a politically correct hoax? Please advise.

    Comment by Cee — September 30, 2021 @ 7:21 AM

  24. Interesting article. I hope you have more articles on brain and behavior – a fascinating topic.

    Comment by julia — September 30, 2021 @ 10:28 AM

  25. That explains my husbands answer when I asked him what he was thinking. 🤔
    His response was simply “nothing.” 🙄
    I thought to myself. How do you do that??? 🤔

    Comment by Amie — October 1, 2021 @ 5:27 AM

  26. Hey Penny Waters
    What you had to say is even more interesting than the article

    Thanks for saying all that,, I love new ideas and ways of looking at things

    Comment by Maggie Steigelman — October 8, 2021 @ 10:25 AM

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