Penn Medicine: Brain Connectivity Study Reveals Striking Differences Between Men and Women

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Media Contact:Steve Graff | stephen.graff@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-5653December 2, 2013

A new brain connectivity study from Penn Medicine published today in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences found striking differences in the neural wiring of men and women that’s lending credence to some commonly-held beliefs about their behavior.

In one of the largest studies looking at the “connectomes” of the sexes, Ragini Verma, PhD, an associate professor in the department of Radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues found greater neural connectivity from front to back and within one hemisphere in males, suggesting their brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action. In contrast, in females, the wiring goes between the left and right hemispheres, suggesting that they facilitate communication between the analytical and intuition.

“These maps show us a stark difference--and complementarity--in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks, and women at others,” said Verma.

For instance, on average, men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group. They have a mentalistic approach, so to speak.

Past studies have shown sex differences in the brain, but the neural wiring connecting regions across the whole brain that have been tied to such cognitive skills has never been fully shown in a large population.

In the study, Verma and colleagues, including co-authors Ruben C. Gur, PhD, a professor of psychology in the department of Psychiatry, and Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Radiology, investigated the gender-specific differences in brain connectivity during the course of development in 949 individuals (521 females and 428 males) aged 8 to 22 years using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).  DTI is water-based imaging technique that can trace and highlight the fiber  pathways connecting the different regions of the brain, laying the foundation for a structural connectome or network of the whole brain.

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