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Science

Male vs. female brains - just how big are the differences?

There are certain characteristics within male and female brains that are more pronounced. As an Israeli-German research team found out, a "mostly male" or "mostly female" brain is the exception, rather than the rule.

Most humans have both female and male characteristics that make up their brain structure. Scientists came to this conclusion after analyzing the brains of over 1,400 study participants.

Through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), neuroscientist Daphna Joel and his team of researchers at the University of Tel Aviv, along with German researcher Daniel Margulies from the Max-Planck Insitute of Cognitive and Neurosciences in Leipzig, analyzed brain scans in the search for answers.

They were looking for a specific set of brain characteristics - those thought to be typical for male brains and those believed to be archetypal of female brains.

Gray matter

Researchers paid special attention to two aspects.

Of particular interest were the gray matter and white brain cells, the topology and shape of which is considered typical for differences between males and females.

Next, researchers looked at the variations in thickness of nerve connections between differing segments of the brain. Each brain was then evaluated depending on the prevalence of male or female characteristics.

An exception, not the rule

Predominantly male or mostly female brains are uncommon. When looking at gray matter, researchers found only 6 percent of all study cases had only male or only female characteristics. Generally, researchers found there was a mixture of characteristics of what has traditionally been classed as male or female.

Neurologists are looking at a brain-scan of a MRT. (photo: dpa)

Computer imaging reveals topological differences between brains

Publishing their findings on Monday in the US National Academy of Sciences journal "Proceedings," the discovery is in keeping with similar recent studies about behavioral and personality differences between males and females.

Communication tool

A 2013 study, however, also published in "Proceedings," suggests another reason for the differences in brain make-up. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania concluded there were significant differences in the way each half of the brain communicated with the other.

According to that study, women had significantly more nerve-connectors between each half of the brain, while men had a higher number of nerve-connections within each half of the brain.

These findings may go some way to possibly explaining why men are said to be better skilled in coordination, while women are able to combine analytical and intuitive information better than males.

fs,jlw/ng (dpa)

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