When presented with the same task, men and women use different parts of their brains to come up with the same answer, according to a new study.
Researchers say the results may help explain which gender differences are caused by developmental, hormonal, or sociological factors.
"What we found most compelling was that male and female participants performed equally on tasks, both in terms of accuracy and timing; they just used different parts of their brains to get the tasks done," said researcher Amy Clements of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, in a news release.
"This study forms the basis for understanding early developmental preferences that may differ between boys and girls,” Clements said. “Future studies based on these findings may help illuminate more about improved special and mainstream education techniques for males and females."
Gender Differences in Brain Patterns
Previous studies have suggested gender differences in how the brain works, but the results have been inconsistent. Researchers say many of those studies failed to match male and female participants in terms of performance ability or used different tasks.
In the study, published in Brain and Language, researchers attempted to overcome those problems by evaluating the brain utilization patterns of 15 men and 15 women who performed equally well on the same language and visual-spatial tasks.
The language task consisted of determining which of two four-letter nonsense word strings rhymed. The visual-spatial task consisted of determining if a pair of yellow lines was in alignment with two highlighted yellow lines displayed among blue lines in a fan pattern.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers found distinct differences between men and women in which parts of the brain were used to complete the tasks.
For example, women showed more bilateral activation of a brain region during the language tasks than the males, who were more lateralized to the left side of their brain. Meanwhile, the opposite was true during the visual-spatial task with men showing more bilateral activation in another area while processing visual information than females, who were more lateralized to the right side.
Researchers say there are often significant gender differences in intellectual developmental disabilities, and understanding gender differences in normally functioning brains can help them understand what may go wrong during development.
By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Dr. Louise Chang.
SOURCES: Clements, A. Brain and Language, August 2006; vol 98: pp 150-158. News release, Kennedy Krieger Institute.