What do you think of the gender differences

How women and men differ

Do men have different feelings than women? Do the sexes think differently? Are there any differences in their cognitive abilities? Researchers are trying to find out whether and what differences exist between men and women - and in doing so, they gain unexpected insights

Nobody can choose their gender: We grow up with our sexual identity and all the advantages and disadvantages that this role may bring with it in life. And yet everyone has probably already thought about what it would be like to look at the world from the eyes of the opposite sex: Would we then feel differently, would we evaluate people, situations and actions differently? Because there is still the cliché that men are tech-savvy, assertive - but unable to name their feelings. Whereas women are said to be good at communicating, but have no sense of orientation and find it difficult to make decisions.

Many people believe that such distorted images are based on real differences - after all, chromosomes and hormones usually form our bodies, typically male or female. How should this not also influence the thinking, feeling and behavior of the respective sexes? But do men and women really feel differently? How big are the differences in questions of personality, skills, attitudes and interests really? And if there are differences - are they located in the brain? Controlled by hormones? Or is it anchored in the genes? And do they suggest certain paths through our lives?

Characteristic factors are highly complex

It is extremely difficult to answer these questions unequivocally - the factors that shape our being are too complex, and certain beliefs and premises seem to persist in this debate. This is why researchers argue about whether gender differences are innate or acquired, learned or an evolutionary heritage. Some see the differences as more socially constructed, others as biologically programmed.

But despite these different perspectives, researchers have been able to gain groundbreaking insights into three essential aspects of masculine and feminine otherness in recent years:

I. Brain: How do the sexes differ in the thinking organ?

II. Hormones: What is the influence of estrogen and testosterone?

III. Behavior: Are there typical male / female characteristics?

In order to clarify these questions more precisely, the experts evaluated countless brain scans, tests, experiments and questionnaires. What they have found may surprise you: On the one hand, it indicates that gender-specific dividing lines cannot be drawn as clearly as long thought. On the other hand, even tiny biological nuances could have a major impact.

I. How do the brains of men and women differ?

Which is why there are women with typically male brain structures - and men with typically female ones

Many people assume that gender-typical behaviors and preferences are reflected in the structures of the thinking organ. For them it is clear: there is a woman's brain and a man's brain. In fact, the brains of men are on average a good ten percent more voluminous and a good 100 grams heavier, not least due to their purely statistically larger body mass. And regardless of the influence of the overall size, there is a different volume in certain areas - for example in the hippocampus, a brain region that is involved in memory and learning, but also in controlling affects. Or in the caudate nucleus, the core of the tail, which is responsible for controlling complex movements.

Brains are not typically male or female

In the meantime, however, it is clear that in most cases it makes little sense to categorize a brain as typically male or typically female on the basis of such anatomical abnormalities. An international team of neuroscientists used magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brains of more than 1,400 people between the ages of 13 and 85, focusing on the brain regions with the greatest gender-specific differences. But the researchers found strong overlaps between the sexes in these areas as well: the left hippocampus was usually larger in men than in women. But at the same time there were women with a rather large left hippocampus - and men with a hippocampus smaller than that of the average woman.

To illustrate this overlap, the researchers designed a spectrum of features for the entire brain: at one end of this spectrum they recorded those features that were more typical of male brains, and at the other end those that were more common in women were. The team then assessed each individual brain examined in the study region by region in order to locate them accordingly on the spectrum.

The brain shapes behavior - and behavior shapes the brain

The result: the same brain can reside in one area on the female and in another area on the male end of the spectrum. A typically female characteristic says nothing about whether other brain regions are also female. Only six percent of the brains showed typical female or male structures alone. The vast majority of the thinking organs examined exhibited a mixture of male and female characteristics. So gender has an influence on the structure and functioning of the brain - but every single brain is a mosaic.

It has not been sufficiently clarified whether and how these differences in the structures are related to behavior. Because the brain shapes behavior - and behavior shapes the brain. Above all, experiences that we make repeatedly can have a lasting impact on the organ of thought. Everyday requirements ensure that our brain adapts to needs, individually. It would also be possible that different everyday experiences of men and women shape their brains in a gender-specific manner and lead to them behaving differently depending on their gender. But there is a third factor in this correlation: the hormones.

II. What influence do messenger substances have on thinking and feeling?

Why women are more anxious and men more impulsive - and when this relationship is reversed

Both sexes produce hormones that are typical for men, such as testosterone, and hormones that are typical for women, such as estrogen and progesterone - but in different concentrations: the amount of testosterone in a man's body is on average ten times as high as that in a woman's body. The hormone level influences properties, behaviors and personality traits such as extraversion or maternal care. It helps to determine how impulsive a person acts, how much trust they have in others and in themselves, how they perceive and process feelings.

Experiments showed: Little testosterone makes you sensitive and emotionally strong

In an experiment, researchers from the University of Montreal showed 25 women and 21 men various images: amusing, terrifying, sad. The participants were asked to describe their feelings when looking at the pictures, at the same time the researchers examined their brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging and analyzed their hormone levels in the blood. The result: women felt the negative emotions more strongly - and the lower their testosterone levels, the more sensitive they were.

In the brains of both sexes, two areas of the brain were particularly active when looking at the images:

  • the amygdala, the feeling center of the brain, which evaluates emotional and especially potentially threatening stimuli and is therefore often referred to as the fear center;
  • and the prefrontal cortex, the rational control center directly behind the forehead, which compares signals with impressions and experiences already stored in the memory, plans actions appropriate to the situation and regulates emotional stimuli.

Women show a weaker connection between the emotional and control centers

The higher the testosterone level of the test subjects, the more closely these two areas were linked in their brain. On average, women have a lower testosterone level, so they showed a weaker link between the emotional and control centers - and reacted more strongly to negative stimuli. This could possibly explain, the researchers concluded, why women are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders as men, for example. However, the composition of the hormone mixture varies greatly from person to person - and above all: it changes over time.

No brain is exposed to the same cocktail of hormones over and over again in a lifetime. Depending on the time of day and probably also depending on the season, men's hormone levels are also subject to strong fluctuations. In women, the concentration of messenger substances in the blood changes in the course of the menstrual cycle and with the onset of pregnancy or menopause. With enormous effects: studies show that the hormonal flood during pregnancy literally reshapes the brain in certain areas. Even more: the more subtle hormonal fluctuations in the monthly rhythm of menstruation also regularly change the structure of the brain. For example, the volume of the hippocampus increases parallel to the rising estrogen level up to ovulation.

Social factors influence biological processes in the body

It is possible that hormone levels not only affect emotions and behavior, but also cognitive performance. For example, during menstruation, when estrogen levels are low, women show better spatial awareness. Conversely, behavior and experiences can influence hormone activity - such as confrontation with gender stereotypes. In an experiment, both male and female participants were asked to solve spatial thinking tasks. In one of the two men's teams it was previously discussed that this ability is on average more pronounced in men than in women.

The result: The testosterone level in these subjects was 60 percent higher than in the control group. Even the expectation that they would do better in the test based on their gender alone had apparently strengthened the self-confidence of these men, their bodies released more testosterone (which in turn probably enabled them to solve the task faster and better). Social factors also sometimes have an influence on biological processes in the body. And: It often depends on the respective situation how women and men solve certain tasks, how they assess themselves and their abilities.

III. Is there specifically male or female behavior?

Where the sexes are apart - and why women and men have more in common than what separates them

Researchers have found differences between the sexes, particularly in two of the five main factors that can be used to measure a person's personality:

• in the compatibility, which is composed of facets such as altruism, consideration, empathy,

• and neuroticism, emotional instability and vulnerability.

Both personality traits were on average more pronounced in women than in men, and that across cultures. However, the effect was sometimes more, sometimes less clear. It was comparatively large when the participants were asked directly and were asked to assess their personality for themselves - and significantly smaller when the differences were ascertained implicitly, for example in association tests. Apparently the test persons allowed themselves to be influenced by stereotypes and social expectations in their self-assessment. Women thought they were more empathetic (or wanted to be seen that way), men said they were less vulnerable.

So often we unconsciously have ideas about how men and women are and should be. Because stereotypes shape our self-image, our view of others, our behavior. By the pre-school age at the latest, children also know this role model. Many researchers therefore consider gender differences to be completely educated. In general, men and women are more similar than they are different - as the US psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde puts it in a thesis paper.

Study showed: The greatest gender difference lies in body composition

The professor at the University of Wisconsin evaluated 46 meta-analyzes, which in turn included data from several thousand studies. She checked differences for a total of 124 factors, including mathematical and linguistic performance, perception, motor skills, but also aspects such as aggression, sexual behavior or life satisfaction. The biggest gender difference she found: men throw a projectile better than women; significantly faster, significantly further. They also sprint faster and have a harder grip.

Given the differences in height and muscle mass, this wasn't a particularly surprising finding. The difference was comparatively large in a task that tests spatial imagination. When mentally rotating three-dimensional objects, the test subjects have to imagine what a depicted figure looks like when it is rotated in a certain direction.

According to researchers, women are more interested in people than in things

Men have an advantage here - all over the world, in a wide variety of regions and cultures. But depending on the origin of the test subjects, their lead is sometimes more, sometimes less pronounced. And within the sexes, the performance diverges much further: two randomly selected men therefore often differ more in this ability than a man and a woman, who each correspond to the gender average. The differences between men and women were significantly smaller for most cognitive performance and for psychological characteristics. And for 78 percent of the variables examined, Janet Hyde found little or no differences.

Researchers led by US psychologists Ethan Zell and Zlatan Krizan came to a similar conclusion, who summarized 106 meta-analyzes of gender differences: In total, that was more than 20,000 individual studies - with data from over twelve million people. The researchers found greater differences between the sexes in ten characteristics: men are more aggressive, do better in terms of their ability to rotate mentally, and attach greater importance to physical attractiveness when choosing a partner. Women are more sensitive to pain, have closer ties to caregivers, and are more interested in people than in things.

Hardly any measurable differences in psychological characteristics

The scientists could not read from their mountain of data how the differences come about. In more than three quarters of the psychological characteristics examined, however, they found broad overlaps between men and women. Whether cognitive performance, personality, social behavior or general well-being: If there were any measurable differences, they were mostly small or very small. So if men and women have so much in common, why do so many firmly believe that the sexes are different?

The researchers' answer: Because people tend to perceive the extremes rather than the average - according to Zlatan Krizan. They may also notice several small differences at the same time that add up to a different overall picture. However, since around half of a person's characteristics are inherited from parents to children, there is much to suggest that individual gender-specific characteristics have a hereditary component. In addition, there are various prenatal and postnatal imprints as well as experiences in later childhood and puberty, which in turn form part of the personality and behavior of a boy or girl. Small biological differences between the sexes can occur at all of these levels. The socialization and imprinting of the family can then compensate for it - or strengthen it.

Research showed: On average, there is less gender separation than assumed

So there are the emotional and cognitive differences between women and men. And even if they are rather small, in individual cases they probably have a noticeable impact. At the same time, research shows: On average, there is less separation between the sexes in their thinking, feeling and behavior than is often assumed - and a presumably typical characteristic says little about the whole personality.A man who keeps silent about his feelings is therefore by no means a pragmatic problem solver who loves competition and competition. And a woman who wants to dissect each of her emotions in hours of conversation may have never got lost in her life and is great at reading maps. And as little as we can choose our own gender: It probably does not limit our being that only another kind of person could overcome.