Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Female & Male Brains

I recently came across this quote from actress Kim Cattrall: "I'm dating again, but I know nothing about men. They remain a mystery to me, other than that they are predictable."

The differences between the female and male brains make for fascinating stuff. Louann Brizendine, M.D. wrote books on each one. She notes: "Much of the conflict that exists between men and women is fueled by unrealistic expectations that stem from failing to grasp each other's innate differences."

We know the stereotypes: women are emotional and men are not; women are more empathetic; men always have sex on the brain; women can't read maps; women are more verbal and men are more visual. But what kind of biological basis is there for these widespread perceptions?

The books follow an identical format, first laying out the parts of the brain that are different between women and men and then the hormones that affect each. Taking readers through the successive stages of life, the books also include chapters on emotions, sex, and love.

Here are just a few juicy bits of information from the books:
  • "Sexual thoughts float through a man's brain every 52 seconds on average, and through a woman's only once a day." It's even worse than we thought!
  • "Men use about 7,000 words per day. Women use about 20,000." More verbal indeed.
  • "An innate skill in observation . . . comes with a brain that is more mature at birth than a boy's brain and develops faster, by 1-2 years."
  • Men often do not register that a woman is upset until she bursts into tears: ". . . tears nearly always come as a complete surprise--and extreme discomfort--to a man . . . Tears in a woman may evoke brain pain in men. The male brain registers helplessness in the face of pain, and such a moment can be extremely difficult for them to tolerate."
  • "Men are used to avoiding contact with others when they themselves are going through an emotionally rough time. They process their troubles alone and think women would want to do the same."

I thought I would learn more from The Male Brain, but I learned a lot from The Female Brain. The books have extensive notes and references, yet are fully accessible to the average person. Some of the author's cited research findings in The Female Brain have come under fire, but not being in that field, I couldn't say. I recently read a review of an upcoming book, the author of which is critical of Brizendine's findings on the female brain. That could lead to an interesting ongoing dialogue.


  1. Those sound interesting. I am interested in reading the female one, especially.

    The fact about how often men think about sex is funny. I should recommend these to my mom... she's always reading books with dating advice like "Why Men Love Bitches," but these sound a lot more educational.

  2. Funny enough, I'm reading Anne Lamott's novel Imperfect Birds, and there's an example therein of one of the things Brizendine explains: "'Tears give you such an unfair advantage.' He shook his head. 'I've always hated to see women come undone.' He hit the carpet with his fist, hard, and it startled her. 'Okay,' he said after a moment, coming to a decision. 'We start over'" (168).