Key brain processes are exactly the same regardless of sex

Men and women are not all that different! Key brain processes are exactly the same regardless of sex, scientists reveal

  • The formation of ‘executive functions’ does not change based on sex 
  • These neural processes are key in how we approach and deal with life  
  • When underdeveloped they are associated with ADHD and schizophrenia
  • These conditions are far more common in males than females  

Researchers have dispelled the common myth that the brains of men and women work in different ways.

They found that important neural processes – known as ‘executive functions’ – happen in the exact same way, regardless of sex.  

Executive functions are brain processes covering things like attention, reasoning, working memory, decision making, impulse control and problem solving. 

They are involved in how we handle the world around us and allow us to plan for future events. 

Well-developed executive functions are found in people who are socially, academically and professionally successful.

On the other hand, underdeveloped executive functions have been linked to conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia.

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Researchers have dispelled the common myth that the brains of men and women work in different ways. They found that important neural processes – known as ‘executive functions’ – brain processes covering things like attention, reasoning and working memory (stock)

The researchers, Nicola Grissom from the University of Minnesota, and Teresa Reyes from the University of Cincinnati, looked at 150 previous studies and found ‘small and subtle to no sex and gender differences in executive function’.

 ‘Overall, we find little support for significant gender or sex differences in executive function,’ write the researchers.

The researchers found that although gender had no impact on executive functions, certain factors did impact the development of the key pathways. 


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Genotype – our genetic makeup – played a role and so did how we develop during maturation and some neural circuit mechanisms. 

The researchers studied the role of sex in executive function development because the medical conditions associated with them show strong gender-bias.

For example, men are more likely to develop schizophrenia at a younger age than women and ADHD is more common in boys than in girls.

The study found that there is no significant difference in executive functioning related to sex that explains why these conditions affect men more than women. 

Over the course of the research the scientists studied vast amounts of pre-existing data that analysed attention, impulsive action, decision making and memory.

The researchers studied the role of sex in executive function development because the medical conditions associated with them show strong gender-bias. For example, men are more likely to develop schizophrenia at a younger age than women and ADHD is more common in boys than in girls (stock)

‘It would be incorrect to conclude that gender and sex is the primary factor driving individual differences in executive function and cognitive performance,’ explain the researchers.

They say the other factors that are known to affect the development of the executive functions should be studied in more detail to help explain the gender discrepancies. 

Executive functioning can be affected by a variety of environmental, not genetic, pressures that happen throughout our life. 

They can range from bullying at school to problems occurring in the womb.  

These ‘developmental trajectories’, as the researchers call them, are likely to be responsible for differences in our cognitive thinking and behaviour.

The research was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. 

WHAT IS SCHIZOPHRENIA?  

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. 

People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.

The cause of schizophrenia is not understood and it is believed to be a mix of genetics (hereditary), abnormalities in brain chemistry and/or possible viral infections and immune disorders. 

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children have schizophrenia too.

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.   

Positive symptoms are disturbances that are ‘added’ to the person’s personality and include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking) 

Negative symptoms are capabilities that are ‘lost’ from the person’s personality and include: 

  • ‘Flat affect’ (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • Difficultly beginning and sustaining activities 

Cognitive symptoms are changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking and include:

  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with ‘working memory’
  • Poor ability to understand information and use it to make decisions 

Figures suggest around one percent of the world population suffers from schizophrenia with around two million in the US.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health 

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