A New Study Proves You Should Stop Believing This Common Gender Myth

Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Do you have a "male brain" or a "female brain?" Well, actually, according to a new study, you have both.

For the study, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed brain scans of more than 1,400 people. In particular, they were looking for any major differences between the brains of male and female participants. The researchers also went through behavior and personality-trait surveys for more than 5,500 people — including questions about gender-stereotypical interests (e.g. cosmetics vs. playing video games) and beliefs (e.g. worrying about weight).

The results showed a few anatomical differences between the brains of men and women, such as the size of the left hippocampus (an area often associated with memory). But they found a remarkable amount of overlap between areas. For instance, though the left hippocampus was usually larger in men than in women, there were a few women for whom this area was larger than the average for men. And interestingly, other researchers have found no gender differences in the hippocampus after accounting for the size of participants’ heads.

The researchers also found this pattern of overlap in the behavioral data, suggesting that our ideas of gender are best thought of on a continuum, with most of us somewhere in the middle when it comes to "male" or "female" traits. Rather than there being a rigid distinction between the brains of men and women, these study authors suggest that everyone has a "mosaic" of gendered characteristics. "What we show is that there are multiple ways to be male and female," Daphna Joel, PhD, the study's lead author, told The Guardian. "And most of these ways are completely overlapping.”

Although there are gender-based differences in our brains, we often read way too much into them. And previous research suggests that those differences may or may not change the way we function in our everyday lives. This study gives us even more proof that we're not so different after all.
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