Do men and women have different brains?

by ChessBase
6/30/2009 – In a recent thought-provoking article WGM Natalia Pogonina and Peter Zhdanov presented their views on the topic of why women are worse at chess than men. A number of our readers were unconviced: they think that efforts at "explaining" differences between the sexes only from environmental factors are doomed at the outset. Recent studies seem to support this. Feedback and articles.

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Readers's feedback

James, Ohio, USA
Interesting views expressed, but it would help clarify things immensely if one would study the research done on the similarities and differences in men and women's brains, especially when it comes to playing chess.

Miroslav Plchot, Edinburgh
Oh please, another pro-women article with the try to find any possible excuse why are women worse in chess than men. Instead to stick to the facts, for only facts are scientific. The fact is that men are simply better in chess! Does that mean that women can't beat man? Of course not, but all in all men's performances dominate the female ones, the database is very clear about that. I know feminism is nowadays very popular, but this has nothing to do with that. So please stop this nonsenses and let us all enjoy the beautiful game of chess, males and females!

Paul Lillebo, Asheville, NC, USA
Pogonina and Zhdanov present us with the same old myths of the 70's about men and women really being just the same, so that any apparent differences between them must be explained by different upbringing and influences. This was hogwash in the 70's and it's hogwash now. Anyone with any clue about animal behavior knows that inborn differences between a bull and a cow, a buck and a doe, a rooster and a hen, or a man and a woman, go deeper than the merely physical. Behavioral differences between the sexes, the way of acting and thinking, differences in interests, are in large part genetic, and are our legacy from our evolutionary past; they didn't disappear when Homo sapiens gradually evolved from the earlier great primates. Naturally, it doesn't follow from this that men are better chess players, but it does follow that these authors' efforts at "explaining" differences between the sexes only from environmental factors is doomed at the outset.

Several of these authors' arguments are truly silly: We have for example, their point that "women's fighting spirits are definitely higher" based on the lower percentage of draws in women's tournaments compared to GM tournaments. Guess what? The percentage of draws typically goes down as the rating goes down! I'm an 1800 player (and have unfortunately been that for 30-odd years), and our "fighting spirit" is much greater than GM's, according to these authors' reasoning. Beginners apparently have the greatest fighting spirit of all.

The authors state, "A stereotype exists in chess that women are no match for men." No evidence is given for this statement. It has certainly not been my experience. Whether you're expected to be a "match for" someone is determined in chess by your rating. When I play against a woman rated higher than me, I expect her to be more than a match for me, and she usually is. We further hear that "it's a well-known fact that women chess players can't make a decent living playing chess unless they're at the very top." That would mean about 2500. The authors ignore the fact that a male chess player under that rating can hardly make a living at it either. In fact, women players in the 2300-2400 range get much more publicity than male players of similar ratings, as shown by the number of ChessBase news reports covering such tournaments.

Then they argue that perhaps women are smarter than men (and throw in the old saw about girls "maturing" faster than boys) and therefore don't want to spend time on such trivia as chess. Let's not bother comparing chess, with its many known beneficial effects, with activities that young (smarter) girls commonly do spend time on, but the authors then proceed to the question of how we can get more girls interested in chess! Why would we want to do that if...

But the real question is, "Why bring this subject up at all?" What's the point? Do we really need to care what percentage of players are men or women? Do we care what percentage are left-handed? Such irrelevancies should be non-issues. If you're interested in chess, you play. If you're not, you don't. That's really all there is to it. It doesn't matter whether you're male or female. When you get a rating you're just as good as someone else with the same rating. Your gender has nothing to do with that.

My advice to girls and women is, take your cue from Judit Polgar: Stay away from sex-discriminating tournaments. The recent plethora of women-only tournaments do not serve anyone's best interests. They draw women from the open tournaments where they can measure themselves against the great unwashed masses of chess players, and they tend to create a partly closed ratings group that may not be aligned with the others. In my view, women's tournaments and women's prizes are patronizing, created out of the notion that women need special treatment. Such tournaments and prizes reinforce such notions. Chess players ought not be separated on the basis of which toilet they use.

10 Big Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Brains

The differences between women and men are not only well-documented, but frequently at the heart of jokes, anecdotes, and good-natured (and not so good-natured) ribbing. Experts have discovered that there are actually differences in the way women’s and men’s brains are structured and in the way they react to events and stimuli. So the next time your wife, boyfriend, or parent starts telling you how you should have done something differently, then refer back to these big differences between men’s and women’s brains.

  1. Human relationships. Women tend to communicate more effectively than men, focusing on how to create a solution that works for the group, talking through issues, and utilizes non-verbal cues such as tone, emotion, and empathy whereas men tend to be more task-oriented, less talkative, and more isolated.

  2. Left brain vs. both hemispheres. Men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres.

  3. Mathematical abilities. An area of the brain called the inferior-parietal lobule (IPL) is typically significantly larger in men, especially on the left side, than in women.

  4. Reaction to stress. Men tend to have a "fight or flight" response to stress situations while women seem to approach these situations with a "tend and befriend" strategy.

  5. Language. Two sections of the brain responsible for language were found to be larger in women than in men, indicating one reason that women typically excel in language-based subjects and in language-associated thinking.

  6. Emotions. Women typically have a larger deep limbic system than men, which allows them to be more in touch with their feelings and better able to express them, which promotes bonding with others.

  7. Brain size. Typically, men’s brains are 11-12% bigger than women’s brains.

  8. Pain. Men and women perceive pain differently.

  9. Spatial ability. Men typically have stronger spatial abilities, or being able to mentally represent a shape and its dynamics, whereas women typically struggle in this area.

  10. Susceptibility to disorders. Because of the way men and women use the two hemispheres of the brain differently, there are some disorders that men and women are susceptible to in different ways.

Do men and women have different brains?

Scientists have known for a while now that men and women have slightly different brains, but they thought the changes were limited to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls sex drive and food intake. A few scientists may have admitted that men's brains were indeed bigger, but they would have tried to qualify this finding by telling you that it was because men were bigger.

In 2001, researchers from Harvard found that certain parts of the brain were differently sized in males and females: parts of the frontal lobe, responsible for problem-solving and decision-making, and the limbic cortex, responsible for regulating emotions, were larger in women, while in men, the parietal cortex, which is involved in space perception, and the amygdala, which regulates sexual and social behavior, were larger.

Men also have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, but women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think. Men seem to think with their gray matter, which is full of active neurons. Women think with the white matter, which consists more of connections between the neurons. In this way, a woman's brain is a bit more complicated in setup, but those connections may allow a woman's brain to work faster than a man's.

Comedian Mark Gungor's take: men's brains are made of little boxes, women's are like wires

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