There is a reason why many women (not all! but many)
have trouble reading maps. The brains of men and women function in
markedly different ways, which means they really do think differently,
according to researchers from the University of California, Irvine and
the University of New Mexico.
The human brain is composed of two types of tissue--gray matter and
white matter. While men and women have about the same amount of gray
matter and white matter, men appear to use more gray matter, while
women use more white matter. Before we proceed further, it's important
to note that while the two genders may think differently, this does
not affect their intellectual performance or overall intelligence.
The study: Using magnetic resonance imaging equipment, the
researchers performed a series of brain scans on 26 female and 22 male
volunteers, all of whom were in good health and had no history of
brain injury. The average IQ scores of the two genders were similar.
The brain scans occurred while the volunteers carried out tests
designed to assess their general intelligence.
The results: The human brain--male or female--is composed of
about 40 percent gray matter and 60 percent white matter. When given
intelligence tests, men used 6.5 times more gray matter than women,
while women used nine times as much white matter.
What is the difference between gray matter and white matter? Gray
is central to processing information and plays a vital role in aiding
skills such as mathematics, map-reading, and intellectual thought.
White matter connects the brain's processing centers and is central to
emotional thinking, use of language, and the ability to do more than
one thing at once. Because women use less gray matter--critical to
map-reading--they tend to have more difficulty with this skill than
"This may help explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring
more local processing, like mathematics and map-reading, while women
tend to excel at integrating information from various brain regions,
such as is required for language skills," co-study author and
neuropsychologist Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico told the
Daily Telegraph. "These two very different pathways and activity
centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad
measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence
This isn't the first study to assail women's map-reading skills.
Previous research has also shown that women have weaker spatial
awareness than men, which makes it more difficult for them to read
maps. But women outshine men when it comes to vocabulary. In
childhood, girls' vocabulary develops more quickly than that of boys;
by adulthood, women can speak 20,000 to 25,000 words a day compared to
a man's 7,000 to 10,000.
"These findings suggest that human evolution has created two
different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,"
co-author and psychology professor Richard Haier of the University of
California, Irvine told MSNBC.
The study findings were published in the online edition of the
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