Male and Female Brain Differences Are 'Minimal': Study

A research study has found that differences between male and female brains are minimal, particularly in the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotional responsiveness.

The study, published in the journal Neuroimage and carried out by researchers at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, undertook a meta-analysis of 76 studies involving more than 6,000 people and found no significant difference in size between the hippocampi in male and female brains.

The two sides of the hippocampus—an organ that spans the left and right sides of the brain—are believed to play a role in long-term memory and form part of the limbic system, a network of nerves which controls basic emotions and drives such as fear and hunger. The hippocampus has previously been reported as larger in women than in men, relative to total brain volume—a finding which the study authors said is used to justify gender stereotypes such as women being in more touch with their emotions. However, a 2014 University of Cambridge study found that males on average had larger hippocampus than females.

"Many people believe there is such a thing as a 'male brain' and a 'female brain,'" said Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin and the study's lead author. "But when you look beyond the popularized studies—at collections of all the data—you often find that the differences are minimal."

The researchers also noted that previous analyses had disproved other alleged gender differences in the brain. For example, the corpus callosum—a bundle of nerve tissue connecting the two sides of the brain and allowing them to communicate—does not vary in size between men and women. The researchers also said that men and women do not differ in the way their left and right hemispheres understand and process language.

The issue of gender differences in human brains is a controversial one. Previous research has found that female brains are on average 8 percent smaller than male brains, but that there is no link between this reduced size and intelligence. However, Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University in Birmingham, England, told The Telegraph that any differences between the brains of men and women are "tiny" and are a result of environmental factors, rather than genetic ones.