Debate is the subject of BBC 2’s Horizon, which airs tonight at 9pm
Programme will look at whether hormones in the womb make people’s brains more ‘masculine,’ as well as men and women’s tolerance to pain
Research from Cambridge University suggests higher levels of testosterone in the womb leads to the development of a more masculine brain
Another recent study showed that men have a stronger connection between the front and backs of their brains, leading to better spatial awareness
Professor Alice Roberts thinks differences between the sexes are down to social conditioning and biological claims put women off becoming scientists
It is said that women are from Venus and men from Mars, but the debate as to whether men and women’s brains really are different rages on.
Tonight it is the subject of BBC’s Horizon, which will feature a number of experts arguing that male and female behaviour is driven by biological differences, and others claiming it is caused by social conditioning.
The programme looks at the latest research – from into whether hormones in the womb make a developing foetus’ brain more ‘masculine’ to how children naturally prefer to play with gender ‘appropriate’ toys.Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, whose research will be examined in the programme, believes there are two different brain types: ‘empathisers’ who are good at reading what people are feeling, and ‘systemisers’ who are best at analysing situations.
All humans are a mixture of the two, but men tend to be stronger systemisers than women, who are largely better empathisers, Dr Michael Mosley explained. This perhaps helps reinforce the stereotype that men are better at reading maps, while women are more adept at reading people’s emotions and multitasking. come.
Professor Baron-Cohen’s latest research suggests that this is a result of exposure to hormones in the womb, and not social conditioning, the BBC reported.
For his latest study, he followed a group of children from birth for 12 years. At 16 weeks gestation, samples of fluid in the womb were taken and the levels of testosterone in it measured.
in-Experts-claim-male-female-brains-biologically-different-men-tend-analytical.html#v-3811754737001 Professor Baron-Cohen found that the higher the testosterone in the fluid, the slower the child was to develop socially and showed less empathy at primary school.
However, children exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb, displayed better spatial awareness and analytical abilities, which are traditionally seen as masculine traits,
He argues in tonight’s programme that male and female brains consequently develop differently, without gender influences imposed on children.
Another recent study by the University of Pennsylvania will come under the spotlight. Researchers scanned the brains of 949 males and females between the ages of eight and 22 and found that male and female brains were wired differently.
Men showed stronger connections between the front and backs of their brains than women.
Professor Ruben Gurr of the university said that the connection means that men are ‘better able to connect what they see with what they do, which is what you need to be able to do if you are a hunter.’
The study also revealed that women have stronger wiring between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which makes people with more feminine brains better at multitasking and reading people’s emotions. However, Professor Alice Roberts believes that differences in how men and women behave are largely down to social conditioning – how children are treated at a young age.
She is concerned that claims that women’s brains are biologically different to men’s could discourage females from pursuing careers in science and engineering.
‘We live in a country where fewer than three out of ten physics A levels are taken by girls, where just 7 per cent of engineers are women…and where men still earn on average nearly 20 per cent more than their female colleagues.’
Dr Michael Mosely, who presents the programme, told MailOnline that culture undoubtedly plays a role in shaping whether people behave in a certain way, but said that he believes there are real differences in the brains of the two sexes.
An experiment was specially conducted for Horizon, which involved experts giving monkeys a choice of ‘male toys’ such as cars and ‘female’ toys such as dolls to play with.
They found that the male monkeys were naturally drawn to the cars, while the female monkeys automatically opted for the dolls.
Researchers say it is natural for females to be drawn to the dolls because female primates raise their young, but they are not sure why the male monkeys wanted cars.
Dr Moseley said that new research into male and female brains could be used to develop the next generation of painkillers that are gender-specific.
Some experts believe that men and women process pain differently. For example men respond better to Paracetamol than women when in pain
Because drugs are typically tested on male animals, many drugs better suit men, but new pills could be tailored to women.
Horizon: Is You Brain Male Or Female? Will be broadcast tonight (September 29) on BBC 2 at 9pm.
ARE MEN AND WOMEN’S BRAINS BIOLOGICALLY DIFFERENT?
Experts are divided as to whether male and female brains really are different.
Neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon says the sexes are not ‘hardwired’ in different ways and there is no evidence that men are innately better at reading maps or that women are better at multi-tasking.
Any difference is due to society’s idea of gender, not to biology, and is deterring a generation of women from becoming scientists, she warns.
Professor Rippon, of Aston University, Birmingham, said differences in the brain are formed in childhood by divisions in the games girls and boys play and stereotypes they conform to.
She told the British Science Festival in Birmingham last month: ‘We really cannot afford to sit back and accept the “essentialist” view that girls are not going to be interested in science subjects because of some “brain deficiency”.
‘We need more trained scientists and engineers but 50 per cent of our pool of talent is not engaging.
‘People who could study these subjects or do these jobs are choosing not to. This must not be explained away by misguided and misleading explanations in terms of unchangeable biological characteristics, or references to “the natural order of things”’.
Her views – for which she has been labelled a ‘gender difference denier’ – are contradicted by a prominent study published last year.
The study, in which the brains of 949 young men and women were scanned at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested that women had better connections between the left and right-hand sides of the brain, while men had better links between the front and back.
The authors claimed their findings demonstrated that women are better disposed to deal with ‘analytical’ and ‘intuitive’ tasks at the same time. Men, meanwhile, were better at complex motor skills, they said.
Professor Rippon dismissed the study as having neglected the idea that these changes were caused by nurture – not nature – and said there is no such thing as a ‘hardwired’ brain.
‘There is quite a lot of thoughtless science being done and quite a lot of overenthusiastic presenting. If you just look at gender differences – and not their experiences in life – then yes you might find differences.
‘But the brains of men and women are much more similar than they are different.’
Debate is the subject of BBC 2’s Horizon, which airs tonight at 9pm