Have you ever wondered why your wife doesn’t appreciate your love affair with the remote control? Are men really from Pluto and women from Jupiter?
We may not come from different planets, but scientists tell us that many of the differences between men and women may actually stem from differences in brain structure. This variance leads to gender- specific behavioral traits. In addition, female hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) can cause microscopic changes in cells which may influence perceptions and thought patterns.
Brain researchers report that the two primary reasons for gender differences are brain structure and hormones. These differences can lead to behaviors that can either help or hinder relationships. God designed the sexes to be different so as to complement each other, yet these gender-specific attributes may also lead to conflict and confusion for many couples. The good news is that we can also discover ways to live in harmony with our mates.
For decades scientists have known that the right and left hemispheres of the brain have different functions. It is well established that the left hemisphere predominantly controls analytical, concrete, goal-oriented behavior, whereas the right side manages more spontaneous, emotional, and artistic actions. Most individuals, independent of their sex, have a dominant lobe that influences their personality.
These two hemispheres are connected by a large network of nerves called the corpus callosum. This superhighway permits the free transfer of complex information between the two lobes. When the corpus callosum is absent (as in some rare birth defects) or severed (by accidental trauma or as medical treatment for otherwise untreatable seizure disorders) the individual’s behavior and personality may become disjointed and unpredictable.
A woman’s brain contains an average of 40% more of these interconnecting nerve fibers: a veritable superhighway for the two sides of the brain in comparison to a man’s two-lane road.
How is this significant? It means that a woman can literally use her whole brain in a task, whereas a man is much more likely to use just one hemisphere at a time. This results in a woman being able to process many tasks at once, whereas a man tends to focus on conquering one task at a time.
Men and women also use their brains differently (when we use them). Fascinating studies utilizing state-of-the-art technology show that during identical tasks, women tend to use the right and left sides of the brain equally whereas men use one hemisphere more intensively. This female “whole brain” thinking, supported by the corpus callosum interconnections but not dependent on them, gives a physiological basis for the enigma of women’s intuition. Being able to use the whole brain in processing information allows women to perceive things in a broader sense and make conclusions based on a vast array of input. This sixth sense is founded on the “whole brain” thinking that takes input from a multitude of sources to produce uncanny and often unexplainable insights.
A woman’s brain has more nerve cells than a man’s in an area called the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is intimately linked to processing and expressing emotions. The hippocampus is also the switchboard for regulating the response to stress. This area is also very sensitive to the effects of estrogen, which partly explains the emotional changes seen with fluctuations in female hormones, i.e., puberty, PMS and menopause. Because women have more neurons in this switchboard, emotions are more closely linked to other behaviors, and stress is perceived differently
Hormones are nature’s messengers. They are chemicals that transfer information from one cell to another, in some cases even altering the structure and function of the target cell. The development of female brain function and structure is especially dependent on estrogen. As the female fetus develops, estrogen works its magic by altering brain structure and sensitizing receptors for the important neurohormone serotonin. Serotonin is the critical “mood messenger” hormone that is responsible for the expression of various emotions, including depression. Any alteration in the workings of serotonin can present as a clinical depression or anxiety disorder. Estrogen is closely tied to the function of serotonin and that is why women are twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men. This connection with serotonin also partially explains why fluctuations in hormones (as in puberty, postpartum, and menopause) can cause changes in emotions. For years, the male-dominated medical fraternity downplayed this episodic mood shift as largely due to external stresses: the “it’s all in your head” approach. We now know that it is all in your head, just in the literal sense, because of the interaction of estrogen with brain cells and serotonin.
One of the most important steps a man can take in helping his wife who is suffering the emotional trials and tribulations of PMS or menopause is to understand that these changes are real and based on both physical and emotional factors in addition to the stresses of her life situation. Fortunately, clarification of the roles played by hormone fluctuations and brain functions had also led to parallel discoveries of how diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements can correct imbalances to restore health and wholeness.