The Neuro-science of Gender Difference

Ideas of differences in the male and female brain circulated during the time of ancient Greek philosophers around 850 B.C. Aristotle claimed that males did not “receive their soul” until 40 days post-gestation and females did not until 80 days. In 1854, Emil Huschke discovered that “the frontal lobe in the male is all of 1% larger than that of the female.”[3] As the 19th century progressed, scientists began researching sexual dimorphisms in the brain significantly more.[4] Until around 21 years ago, scientists knew of several structural sexual dimorphisms of the brain, but they did not think that sex had any impact on how the human brain performs daily tasks. Through molecular, animal, and neuroimaging studies, a great deal of information regarding the differences between male and female brains and how much they differ in regards to both structure and function has been uncovered.[5]

 

When it comes to the brains of women and men the differences are quite remarkable.  The variances between the female and male brain begin in their development in the uterus.  Before birth, the female brain is flushed with estrogen hormones, while the male brain is washed with testosterone.  As such, baby girls are more attentive to eye contact with their mothers while baby boys are more interested in the activity going on around them.

It is important to understand the workings of the brain in order to comprehend how women and men react differently in life and in the workplace.  There are actual differences in the brain structure between women and men.  There are key parts of the brain that are responsible for our ability to function in the working world.

The Amygdala

The Amygdala is a small almond shaped body located deep in the brain in the temporal lobe – behind each ear.  It has been shown to play a key role in processing emotions such as fear and pleasure.  The amygdala  is larger in men’s brain than in women’s brain.  Also, men’s amygdales have testosterone receptors that heighten responses.  Since the amygdala stimulates competitiveness, this explains why men can be so competitive and really enjoy the fight.  A recent study by the University of Chicago found that men are 94 percent more likely than women to apply for a job with a salary potential that is dependent on out performing their colleagues (upstart.bizjournalatwork).

Women and men react differently to the fear response of the amygdala.  When the signal of fight or flight is triggered, women respond by gathering in groups – the tend and befriend response.  Women are much better at reducing stress and feeling safe by connecting.  Men however, tend to withdrawal to themselves.  To quote Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster (Mean Girls at Work), “men are from the combat zone, women are from the support circle”.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The Prefrontal Cortex is located in the front parts of the brain behind the forehead.  It is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality, expression, decision-making and moderating social behavior.  It is the executive function system of the brain.  The prefrontal cortex is larger and matures faster in women than in men.

Women have more estrogen and less testosterone flowing through their brains enabling them to look for solutions to conflicts.  

POLITICSS

One other distinction is that estrogen promotes the stress response within the prefrontal cortex.  What this means is that when faced with a deadline, women will complete a project a week ahead of time in order to avoid the pressure and increased arousal a deadline brings. Men however, will wait until the last minute so that they have the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinepherine actually push them to finish.  With the combination of brain structure, hormones and neurotransmitters, it implies that women look for ways to compromise and serve the needs of others while men look for ways to come out on top.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex

This is another part of the rational decision-making center of the brain.  The anterior cingulated cortex governs thinking and emotion.  This is another region in the brain that is larger in women than in men.  The anterior cingulated cortex has been labeled the ‘worry wart’ part of the brain in women.  It’s original function prompted women to be cautious and to protect their young.  However, in today’s workplace this action is looked at as a lack of confidence by women with no risk-taking skills – especially by men driven by competitive testosterone.

The Corpus Callosum

The brain is divided into two hemispheres.  The left side takes care of language and verbal skills and processes information in an orderly, logical way.  The right hemisphere deals with visual and spatial information as well as abstract thinking and emotional responses.  The Corpus Callosum connects both hemispheres.  It is thicker in women enabling them to use both sides of the brain in a connected way.  Because women have language and emotional centers in both hemispheres with a thicker corpus callosum to connect them, women can be more sensitive to and affected by harsh words and criticism in the workplace.

Finally – The Hippocampus

The Hippocampus is a horseshoe shaped structure with one located in the left hemisphere and one located in the right hemisphere.  This structure is critical to memory formation.  It not only forms new memories but it also sends memories to the appropriate area of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage as well as retrieving them when necessary.  The hippocampus is larger and more active in women.  It is estrogen sensitive and acts as a relay station for processing memories into words.  Women actually have eleven percent more neurons than men in the brain center for language and hearing.  This bodes well for developing executive communication styles, and sensitive negotiations.  Women use language to develop consensus more efficiently than men.  Men’s brains are more specifically organized to focus intensely and not be distracted by superfluous information (columbiaconnect.com, 2008).

One more word about the biology of the brain: in December 2013 a research report was released stating that the difference between women and men’s brains are actually hardwired.  The research on brain connectivity was conducted on 949 individuals – 521 females and 428 males between the ages of 8 – 22.  The distinction between the genders became apparent after adolescence.  The study determined that females had many neural connections running from side to side between the right and left hemispheres in the prefrontal cortex area.  The neural connections in the male brains ran from front to back on the same side of the brain.  So what does this mean?  Generally it means that women are better at memory, social cognition tests and intuition.  Men are better at spatial tasks, navigation and muscle control (Science Daily, 12/13).

The differences between women and men’s brains are anatomical and physiological.  They kept our primitive ancestors alive and maybe properly equipping us for the modern workplace!  Now that those differences have been scientifically validated the behavior of women in the workplace should not be regarded as weakness but as effective leadership models.  Science has made that decision.

Science has validated that women are equipped to be successful leaders in any capacity they choose.  Then why is there such a gender gap in the C-Suite in Corporate America and why are there so few female holding top political offices?  To answer these questions Peter J. Kuhn and Marie Claire Villenal, both economic professors, studied why women and men perform so differently in the workplace.  The study was set up like this:

•Male and female students from undergraduate business and engineering schools were recruited to participate.  They were to choose either team-based projects or solo projects.  The teams had to be evenly mixed with males and females.

•First round of the study:

◦solo- based projects – there was no difference in the output

◦between females and males

◦team-based project – performance remained the same –

◦therefore no gender gap

◦when evaluated on confidence of team mates abilities –

◦women showed ‘much higher’ expectations and confidence

◦in their partners than men did

•Second round of the study:  incentivized output

◦solo based project – paid on an individual basis

◦team-based: each team would be paid on output and they

◦would choose their own teammates

◦women were more likely to choose a team compensated

◦project than men as soon as payment was introduced

•Conclusions:

◦Women’s more generous belief about their partners’ abilities account for all of the gender gap choices

◦Knowledgeable women simply aren’t as confident in their own abilities as men are, while men are too distrusting of their coworkers’ abilities and overconfident of their own

◦This accounts for an abundance of women in the non-profit sector and found sparingly in top financial, economic or political positions in modern society.  Women stay away from competitive environments and flock to positions involving collaboration

Gender differences in the workplace: women prefer collaboration, while men distrust their coworkers and desire to work alone (Medical Daily, 

Aug. 22, 2013).  

Dr. Daniel Amen has a book titled “Unleash the Power of the Female Brain” where he states that women are wired for success.  He makes a very compelling statement when he says that “the prefrontal cortex which controls judgment, organization, impulse control and planning is more active in women,” suggesting that women are wired to hold positions of power and run the world.  Through his research Dr. Amen has identified five particular strengths of women that play a key role in leadership: Empathy, Collaboration, Intuition, Self Control and Appropriate Worry.  

Anatomically women have the brains it takes to be extraordinary leaders.  Neuroscience has revealed more to us about the brain in the past twenty years than all of history before that.   It is important to note that through neuroplasticity our brains are changing constantly to our environment.  If women are continually told they cannot lead – they will not be leaders.  But knowing that we are equipped for the challenge of leadership, our brains will positively react to the encouragement of leading.  Nature vs. Nurture: Nature has given us what we need – now we need to nurture female leaders.

_____________________________________

References:
Gender differences in the workplace: women prefer collaboration while men distrust their coworkers and desire to work alone. (2013, August 22). Retrieved January 30,2014, from http://www.medicaldaily.com/gender-differences-workplace-women-prefer-collaboration-while-men-distrust-their-coworkers-and-desire-to-work-alone.html.

Lean in and why women’s brains are wired for leadership. (2013, March 29). Retrieved October 28,2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-amen-md/lean-in-and-wny-womens-br_b_2974570.html.

Men vs, women: why the work divide matters. (2013, January 10). Retrieved January 30, 2014, fromspan class=”auto-style3″> http://upstart.bizjournals.com/resources/author/2013/01/10/male-versus-female-behavior-at-work.html.

The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are better at map reading. (2013, December 3). Retrieved January 30, 2014, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-hardwired-difference-between-male-and-female-brains-could-explain-why-men-are-better-at-map-reading-8978248.html.

Understanding ourselves: gender differences in the brain. (2008). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.columbiaconsult.com/pubs/v52_fall07.html.

 

Neuroscience of sex differences is the study of the characteristics of the brain that separate the male brain and the female brain. Psychological sex differences are thought by some to reflect the interaction of genes, hormones and social learning on brain development throughout the lifespan.

Some evidence from brain morphology and function studies indicates that male and female brains cannot always be assumed to be identical from either a structural or functional perspective, and some brain structures are sexually dimorphic.[1][2]

Evolutionary explanations[edit]

Sexual selection[edit]

Females show enhanced information recall compared to males. This may be due to the fact that females have a more intricate evaluation of risk-scenario contemplation, based on a prefrontal cortical control of the amygdala. For example, the ability to recall information better than males most likely originated from sexual selective pressures on females during competition with other females in mate selection. Recognition of social cues was an advantageous characteristic because it ultimately maximized offspring and was therefore selected for during evolution.[1]

Oxytocin is a hormone that induces contraction of the uterus and lactation in mammals. It is also a characteristic hormone of nursing mothers. Studies have found that oxytocin improves spatial memory. Through activation of the MAP kinase pathway, oxytocin plays a role in the enhancement of long-term synaptic plasticity, which is a change in strength between two neurons over a synapse that lasts for minutes or longer, and long-term memory. This hormone may have helped mothers remember the location of distant food sources so they could better nurture their offspring.[1]

Male vs. female brain anatomy[edit]

Hemisphere differences[edit]

A popular theory regarding language functions suggests that women use both hemispheres more equally, whereas men are more strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere; however a 2008 meta-analysis of 29 studies comparing language lateralization in males and females found no overall difference.[6]

Amygdala[edit]

.

A 2016 meta-analysis found that the amygdala is not significantly larger in either sex.[7] A 2008 meta-analysis of fMRI studies of amygdala activation found larger effect sizes in men compared with women.[8]

Amygdala volume correlates positively with fearfulness in girls but not in boys.[9]

In fMRI studies, women display stronger activation in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex than men.[10]

Hippocampus[edit]

A 2016 meta-analysis found that the hippocampus does not differ in volume between men and women.[11]

Other regions and not region-specific[edit]

There are sex differences in locus coeruleus dendritic structure that allow for an increased reception and processing of limbic information in females compared to males.[9]

Aggressive and defiant behavior is also associated with decreased right anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) volume in boys.[9]

White/grey matter[edit]

In a 2013 meta-analysis, researchers found on average males had larger grey matter (GM) volume in bilateral amygdalae, hippocampi, anterior parahippocampal gyri, posterior cingulate gyri, precuneus, putamen and temporal poles, areas in the left posterior and anterior cingulate gyri, and areas in the cerebellum bilateral VIIb, VIIIa and Crus I lobes, left VI and right Crus II lobes.[2]

On the other hand, females on average had larger grey matter volume at the right frontal pole, inferior and middle frontal gyri, pars triangularis, planum temporale/parietal operculum, anterior cingulate gyrus, insular cortex, and Heschl’s gyrus; bilateral thalami and precuneus; the left parahippocampal gyrus and lateral occipital cortex (superior division).[2] The meta-analysis found larger volumes in females were most pronounced in areas in the right hemisphere related to language in addition to several limbic structures such as the right insular cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus.[2]

Brain networks[edit]

A 2014 meta-analysis found that although men and women commonly used the same brain networks for working memory, specific regions were sex specific.[12] For example, both men and women’s active working memory networks composed of bilateral middle frontal gyri, left cingulate gyrus, right precuneus, left inferior and superior parietal lobes, right claustrum, and left middle temporal gyrus but women also tended have consistent activity in the limbic regions such as the anterior cingulate, bilateral amygdala and right hippocampus while men tended to have a distributed networks spread out among the cerebellum, portions of the superior parietal lobe, the left insula and bilateral thalamus.[12]

A 2017 review from the perspective of large-scale brain networks, hypothesized that women’s higher susceptibility to stress-prone diseases like PTSD and major depressive disorder, in which the salience network is theorized to be overactive and to interfere with the executive control network, may be due in part (along with societal exposure to stressors and the coping strategies that are available to women) to underlying sex-based brain differences.[10]

Neurochemical differences[edit]

Hormones[edit]

Steroid hormones have several effects on brain development as well as maintenance of homeostasis throughout adulthood. One effect they exhibit is on the hypothalamus, where they increase synapse formation.[13] Estrogen receptors have been found in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, hippocampus, and frontal cortex, indicating the estrogen plays a role in brain development. Gonadal hormone receptors have also been found in the basal forebrain nuclei.[14]

Estrogen and the female brain[edit]

Estradiol influences cognitive function, specifically by enhancing learning and memory in a dose-sensitive manner. Too much estrogen can have negative effects by weakening performance of learned tasks as well as hindering performance of memory tasks; this can result in females exhibiting poorer performance of such tasks when compared to males.[15]

It has been suggested that during development, estrogen can exhibit both feminizing and defeminizing effects on the human brain; high levels of estrogen induce male neural traits to develop while moderate levels induce female traits. In females, defeminizing effects are resisted because of the presence of α-fetoprotein (AFP), a carrier protein proposed to transport estrogen into brain cells, allowing the female brain to properly develop. The role of AFP is significant at crucial stages of development, however. Prenatally, AFP blocks estrogen. Postnatally, AFP decreases to ineffective levels; therefore, it is probable that estrogen exhibits its effects on female brain development postnatally.[16]

Ovariectomies, surgeries inducing menopause, or natural menopause cause fluctuating and decreased estrogen levels in women. This in turn can “attenuate the effects” of endogenous opioid peptides. Opioid peptides are known to play a role in emotion and motivation. β-endorphin (β-EP), an endogenous opioid peptide, content has been found to decrease (in varying amounts/brain region), post ovariectomy, in female rats within the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and pituitary gland. Such a change in β-EP levels could be the cause of mood swings, behavioral disturbances, and hot flashes in post menopausal women.[14]

Testosterone and the male brain[edit]

Testosterone heavily influences male development; a study found that perinatal females introduced to elevated testosterone levels exhibited male behavior patterns. In the absence of testosterone, female behavior is retained.[13] Testosterone’s influence on the brain is caused by organizational developmental effects. It has been shown to influence proaptotic proteins so that they increase neuronal cell death in certain brain regions. Another way testosterone affects brain development is by aiding in the construction of the “limbic hypothalamic neural networks”.[13]

Oxytocin and Vasopressin[edit]

Oxytocin is positively correlated with maternal behaviours, social recognition, social contact, sexual behaviour and pair bonding. Oxytocin appears at higher levels in women than in men.[17] Vasopressin on the other hand is more present in men and mediates sexual behavior, aggression and other social functions.[17][18]

Cognitive tasks[edit]

It was once thought that sex differences in cognitive task and problem solving did not occur until puberty. However, as of 2000 evidence suggested that cognitive and skill differences are present earlier in development. For example, researchers have found that three- and four-year-old boys were better at targeting and at mentally rotating figures within a clock face than girls of the same age were. Prepubescent girls, however, excelled at recalling lists of words. These sex differences in cognition correspond to patterns of ability rather than overall intelligence. Laboratory settings are used to systematically study the sexual dimorphism in problem solving task performed by adults.[19]

On average, males excel relative to females at certain spatial tasks. Specifically, males have an advantage in tests that require the mental rotation or manipulation of an object.[20] In a computer simulation of a maze task, males completed the task faster and with fewer errors than their female counterparts. Additionally, males have displayed higher accuracy in tests of targeted motor skills, such as guiding projectiles.[19] Males are also faster on reaction time and finger tapping tests.[21]

On average, females excel relative to males on tests that measure recollection. They have an advantage on processing speed involving letters, digits and rapid naming tasks.[21] Females tend to have better object location memory and verbal memory.[22] They also perform better at verbal learning.[23] Females have better performance at matching items and precision tasks, such as placing pegs into designated holes. In maze and path completion tasks, males learn the goal route in fewer trials than females, but females remember more of the landmarks presented. This shows that females use landmarks in everyday situations to orient themselves more than males. Females are better at remembering whether objects had switched places or not.[19]

References[edit]

1^ Jump up to:
a b c Cahill L (June 2006). “Why sex matters for neuroscience”. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. 7 (6): 477–84. doi:10.1038/nrn1909. PMID 16688123.

2^ Jump up to:
a b c d Ruigrok, Amber N. V.; Salimi-Khorshidi, Gholamreza; Lai, Meng-Chuan; Baron-Cohen, Simon; Lombardo, Michael V.; Tait, Roger J.; Suckling, John (2014-02-01). “A meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structure”. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 39: 34–50. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.12.004. PMC 3969295. PMID 24374381.

3 Jump up
^
Swaab DF, Hofman MA (1984). “Sexual differentiation of the human brain. A historical perspective”. Progress in Brain Research. Progress in Brain Research. 61: 361–74. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(08)64447-7. ISBN 9780444805324. PMID 6396708.

4 Jump up
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Hofman MA, Swaab DF (1991). “Sexual dimorphism of the human brain: myth and reality” (PDF). Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology. 98 (2): 161–70. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1211113. PMID 1778230.

5 Jump up
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McCarthy, Margaret M. (2016-02-19). “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: 371 (1688)”. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. Theme issue ‘Multifaceted origins of sex differences in the brain’. 371 (1688). doi:10.1098/rstb/371/1688. ISSN 0962-8436.

6 Jump up
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Sommer IE, Aleman A, Somers M, Boks MP, Kahn RS (April 2008). “Sex differences in handedness, asymmetry of the planum temporale and functional language lateralization”. Brain Research. 1206: 76–88. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2008.01.003. PMID 18359009.

7 Jump up
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Marwha, Dhruv; Halari, Meha; Eliot, Lise (2017-02-15). “Meta-analysis reveals a lack of sexual dimorphism in human amygdala volume”. NeuroImage. 147: 282–294. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.12.021.

8 Jump up
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Sergerie, K; Chochol, C; Armony, JL (2008). “The role of the amygdala in emotional processing: a quantitative meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies”. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. 32 (4): 811–30. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.12.002. PMID 18316124.

9^ Jump up to:
a b c Kret, ME; De Gelder, B (June 2012). “A review on sex differences in processing emotional signals”. Neuropsychologia. 50 (7): 1211–21. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.12.022. PMID 22245006.

10^ Jump up to:
a b Homberg, Judith R; Kozicz, Tamas; Fernández, Guillén (April 2017). “Large-scale network balances in the transition from adaptive to maladaptive stress responses”. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 14: 27–32. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.11.003.

11 Jump up
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Tan, A; Ma, W; Vira, A; Marwha, D; Eliot, L (1 January 2016). “The human hippocampus is not sexually-dimorphic: Meta-analysis of structural MRI volumes”. NeuroImage. 124 (Pt A): 350–366. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.08.050. PMID 26334947.

12^ Jump up to:
a b Hill, Ashley C. (2014). “Gender differences in working memory networks: A BrainMap meta-analysis” (PDF). Biological Psychology. 102: 18–29. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.06.008. PMC 4157091. PMID 25042764.

13^ Jump up to:
a b c Simerly RB (February 2005). “Wired on hormones: endocrine regulation of hypothalamic development”. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 15 (1): 81–5. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2005.01.013. PMID 15721748.

14^ Jump up to:
a b Genazzani AR, Pluchino N, Luisi S, Luisi M (2007). “Estrogen, cognition and female ageing”. Human Reproduction Update. 13 (2): 175–87. doi:10.1093/humupd/dml042. PMID 17135285.

15 Jump up
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Korol DL (November 2004). “Role of estrogen in balancing contributions from multiple memory systems”. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 82 (3): 309–23. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2004.07.006. PMID 15464412.

16 Jump up
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Bakker J, Baum MJ (January 2008). “Role for estradiol in female-typical brain and behavioral sexual differentiation”. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 29 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2007.06.001. PMC 2373265. PMID 17720235.

17^ Jump up to:
a b Carter, C.Sue (2006). “Sex differences in oxytocin and vasopressin: Implications for autism spectrum disorders?” (PDF). Behavioural Brain Research. 176 (1): 170–186. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2006.08.025. PMID 17000015.

18 Jump up
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Skuse, David H. (2006-11-01). “Sexual dimorphism in cognition and behaviour: the role of X-linked genes”. European Journal of Endocrinology. 155 (suppl 1): S99–S106. doi:10.1530/eje.1.02263. ISSN 0804-4643.

19^ Jump up to:
a b c Kimura, Doreen (July 31, 2000). Sex and Cognition. A Bradford Book. p. 28. ISBN 0262611643.

20 Jump up
^
Miller, DI; Halpern, DF (January 2014). “The new science of cognitive sex differences”. Trends in cognitive sciences. 18 (1): 37–45. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2013.10.011. PMID 24246136.

21^ Jump up to:
a b Roivainen, Eka (2011). “Gender differences in processing speed: A review of recent research”. Learning and Individual Differences. 21 (2): 145–149. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.11.021.

22 Jump up
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Li, Rena (2014-09-01). “Why women see differently from the way men see? A review of sex differences in cognition and sports”. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 3 (3): 155–162. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2014.03.012. PMC 4266559. PMID 25520851.

23 Jump up
^
Wallentin, Mikkel (2009). “Putative sex differences in verbal abilities and language cortex: A critical review”. Brain and Language. 108 (3): 175–183. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2008.07.001. PMID 18722007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that three-pound organ that rests between our ears.  It dictates who we are, what we do, how and what we think and we have no idea how it works.  To understand the differences in behavior and leadership styles that women and men exhibit in the workplace, it is necessary to go to the point of origin – the brain.

 

When it comes to the brains of women and men the differences are quite remarkable.  The variances between the female and male brain begin in their development in the uterus.  Before birth, the female brain is flushed with estrogen hormones, while the male brain is washed with testosterone.  As such, baby girls are more attentive to eye contact with their mothers while baby boys are more interested in the activity going on around them.

It is important to understand the workings of the brain in order to comprehend how women and men react differently in life and in the workplace.  There are actual differences in the brain structure between women and men.  There are key parts of the brain that are responsible for our ability to function in the working world.

The Amygdala

The Amygdala is a small almond shaped body located deep in the brain in the temporal lobe – behind each ear.  It has been shown to play a key role in processing emotions such as fear and pleasure.  The amygdala  is larger in men’s brain than in women’s brain.  Also, men’s amygdales have testosterone receptors that heighten responses.  Since the amygdala stimulates competitiveness, this explains why men can be so competitive and really enjoy the fight.  A recent study by the University of Chicago found that men are 94 percent more likely than women to apply for a job with a salary potential that is dependent on out performing their colleagues (upstart.bizjournalatwork).

Women and men react differently to the fear response of the amygdala.  When the signal of fight or flight is triggered, women respond by gathering in groups – the tend and befriend response.  Women are much better at reducing stress and feeling safe by connecting.  Men however, tend to withdrawal to themselves.  To quote Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster (Mean Girls at Work), “men are from the combat zone, women are from the support circle”.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The Prefrontal Cortex is located in the front parts of the brain behind the forehead.  It is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality, expression, decision-making and moderating social behavior.  It is the executive function system of the brain.  The prefrontal cortex is larger and matures faster in women than in men.

Women have more estrogen and less testosterone flowing through their brains enabling them to look for solutions to conflicts.  

POLITICSS

One other distinction is that estrogen promotes the stress response within the prefrontal cortex.  What this means is that when faced with a deadline, women will complete a project a week ahead of time in order to avoid the pressure and increased arousal a deadline brings. Men however, will wait until the last minute so that they have the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinepherine actually push them to finish.  With the combination of brain structure, hormones and neurotransmitters, it implies that women look for ways to compromise and serve the needs of others while men look for ways to come out on top.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex

This is another part of the rational decision-making center of the brain.  The anterior cingulated cortex governs thinking and emotion.  This is another region in the brain that is larger in women than in men.  The anterior cingulated cortex has been labeled the ‘worry wart’ part of the brain in women.  It’s original function prompted women to be cautious and to protect their young.  However, in today’s workplace this action is looked at as a lack of confidence by women with no risk-taking skills – especially by men driven by competitive testosterone.

The Corpus Callosum

The brain is divided into two hemispheres.  The left side takes care of language and verbal skills and processes information in an orderly, logical way.  The right hemisphere deals with visual and spatial information as well as abstract thinking and emotional responses.  The Corpus Callosum connects both hemispheres.  It is thicker in women enabling them to use both sides of the brain in a connected way.  Because women have language and emotional centers in both hemispheres with a thicker corpus callosum to connect them, women can be more sensitive to and affected by harsh words and criticism in the workplace.

Finally – The Hippocampus

The Hippocampus is a horseshoe shaped structure with one located in the left hemisphere and one located in the right hemisphere.  This structure is critical to memory formation.  It not only forms new memories but it also sends memories to the appropriate area of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage as well as retrieving them when necessary.  The hippocampus is larger and more active in women.  It is estrogen sensitive and acts as a relay station for processing memories into words.  Women actually have eleven percent more neurons than men in the brain center for language and hearing.  This bodes well for developing executive communication styles, and sensitive negotiations.  Women use language to develop consensus more efficiently than men.  Men’s brains are more specifically organized to focus intensely and not be distracted by superfluous information (columbiaconnect.com, 2008).

One more word about the biology of the brain: in December 2013 a research report was released stating that the difference between women and men’s brains are actually hardwired.  The research on brain connectivity was conducted on 949 individuals – 521 females and 428 males between the ages of 8 – 22.  The distinction between the genders became apparent after adolescence.  The study determined that females had many neural connections running from side to side between the right and left hemispheres in the prefrontal cortex area.  The neural connections in the male brains ran from front to back on the same side of the brain.  So what does this mean?  Generally it means that women are better at memory, social cognition tests and intuition.  Men are better at spatial tasks, navigation and muscle control (Science Daily, 12/13).

The differences between women and men’s brains are anatomical and physiological.  They kept our primitive ancestors alive and maybe properly equipping us for the modern workplace!  Now that those differences have been scientifically validated the behavior of women in the workplace should not be regarded as weakness but as effective leadership models.  Science has made that decision.

Science has validated that women are equipped to be successful leaders in any capacity they choose.  Then why is there such a gender gap in the C-Suite in Corporate America and why are there so few female holding top political offices?  To answer these questions Peter J. Kuhn and Marie Claire Villenal, both economic professors, studied why women and men perform so differently in the workplace.  The study was set up like this:

•Male and female students from undergraduate business and engineering schools were recruited to participate.  They were to choose either team-based projects or solo projects.  The teams had to be evenly mixed with males and females.

•First round of the study:

◦solo- based projects – there was no difference in the output

◦between females and males

◦team-based project – performance remained the same –

◦therefore no gender gap

◦when evaluated on confidence of team mates abilities –

◦women showed ‘much higher’ expectations and confidence

◦in their partners than men did

•Second round of the study:  incentivized output

◦solo based project – paid on an individual basis

◦team-based: each team would be paid on output and they

◦would choose their own teammates

◦women were more likely to choose a team compensated

◦project than men as soon as payment was introduced

•Conclusions:

◦Women’s more generous belief about their partners’ abilities account for all of the gender gap choices

◦Knowledgeable women simply aren’t as confident in their own abilities as men are, while men are too distrusting of their coworkers’ abilities and overconfident of their own

◦This accounts for an abundance of women in the non-profit sector and found sparingly in top financial, economic or political positions in modern society.  Women stay away from competitive environments and flock to positions involving collaboration

Gender differences in the workplace: women prefer collaboration, while men distrust their coworkers and desire to work alone (Medical Daily, 

Aug. 22, 2013).  

Dr. Daniel Amen has a book titled “Unleash the Power of the Female Brain” where he states that women are wired for success.  He makes a very compelling statement when he says that “the prefrontal cortex which controls judgment, organization, impulse control and planning is more active in women,” suggesting that women are wired to hold positions of power and run the world.  Through his research Dr. Amen has identified five particular strengths of women that play a key role in leadership: Empathy, Collaboration, Intuition, Self Control and Appropriate Worry.  

Anatomically women have the brains it takes to be extraordinary leaders.  Neuroscience has revealed more to us about the brain in the past twenty years than all of history before that.   It is important to note that through neuroplasticity our brains are changing constantly to our environment.  If women are continually told they cannot lead – they will not be leaders.  But knowing that we are equipped for the challenge of leadership, our brains will positively react to the encouragement of leading.  Nature vs. Nurture: Nature has given us what we need – now we need to nurture female leaders.

_____________________________________

References:
Gender differences in the workplace: women prefer collaboration while men distrust their coworkers and desire to work alone. (2013, August 22). Retrieved January 30,2014, from http://www.medicaldaily.com/gender-differences-workplace-women-prefer-collaboration-while-men-distrust-their-coworkers-and-desire-to-work-alone.html.

Lean in and why women’s brains are wired for leadership. (2013, March 29). Retrieved October 28,2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-amen-md/lean-in-and-wny-womens-br_b_2974570.html.

Men vs, women: why the work divide matters. (2013, January 10). Retrieved January 30, 2014, fromspan class=”auto-style3″> http://upstart.bizjournals.com/resources/author/2013/01/10/male-versus-female-behavior-at-work.html.

The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are better at map reading. (2013, December 3). Retrieved January 30, 2014, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-hardwired-difference-between-male-and-female-brains-could-explain-why-men-are-better-at-map-reading-8978248.html.

Understanding ourselves: gender differences in the brain. (2008). Retrieved October 28, 2013, from http://www.columbiaconsult.com/pubs/v52_fall07.html.

 

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