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Why men are better navigators, and women have better memory

Why men are better navigators, and women have better memoryScientists may have an explanation for why men may be better drivers than women, and why women have better attention span and memory.

A new brain connectivity study from the US published on Tuesday in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal found remarkable differences in the neural wiring of men and women that could give evidence for stereotypes about the sexes.

In one of the largest studies examining neural connections in the brains of men and women, researchers led by Ragini Verma, associate professor in the department of radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found greater neural connectivity from front to back and within a single hemisphere in males, suggesting their brains are wired for perception and coordinated action.

In females, however, the connectivity was across the left and right hemispheres, suggesting more communication between the analytical and intuition.

Verma and colleagues investigated gender-specific differences in brain connectivity during the course of development in 949 individuals (521 females and 428 males) aged 8 to 22 years using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)—a water-based imaging technique that can trace and highlight the fibre pathways connecting the different regions of the brain.

“These maps show us a stark difference—and complementarity—in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” said Verma in a statement by University of Pennsylvania on Monday.

In the study, the researchers found that females displayed greater connectivity in the region which contains the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, between the left and right hemispheres. But in males, there was more inter-hemispheric connectivity in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that plays a major role in motor control.

On average, men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group, said the authors.

Females outperformed males on attention, word and face memory, and social cognition tests. Males did better on spatial processing and sensorimotor speed. Those differences were most clear in the 12 to 14 age range.

Past studies have shown sex differences in the brain, like why men may be better at math, but women may be better at reading. But the neural wiring connecting regions across the whole brain, which are responsible for various cognitive skills, has never been shown in a such a large population. Past studies also do not explain the complementarity in the brain.

“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” Ruben Gur said in the statement. “Detailed connectome maps of the brain will not only help us better understand the differences between how men and women think, but it will also give us more insight into the roots of neurological disorders, which are often sex related.”

“Connections and wiring in the brain develop on the basis of the society they develop in,” said Arpan Banerjee, assistant professor at the National Brain Research Centre in Manesar, Haryana.

“The question is what kinds of factors are responsible for brain development during the childhood, which will give us reasons to study the brain in different regions.”

Banerjee said it is important to study the brain based on where development takes place—South or North India, for instance—and how differences in males and females are important from the perspective of education.

“These questions could be crucial for policymakers,” Banerjee said.

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