Women’s Multitasking Skill Linked to Neural Network Patterns

Diane Halpern

Diane Halpern

Differences between men’s and women’s performance on cognitive tasks, particularly mathematics and science have been observed for decades, with men generally excelling at motor and spatial tasks and women excelling in memory and social cognition tasks.

Camilla Benbow

Camilla Benbow

Claremont McKenna College’s Diane F. Halpern led an extensive review of these performance differences with Camilla P. Benbow of Vanderbilt University, University of Missouri‘s David C. Geary, Ruben C. Gur of University of Pennsylvania, Janet Shibley Hyde and Morton Ann Gernsbacher of University of Wisconsin. 

David Geary

David Geary

Their evidence “provided no single or simple answer” to contrasting skills by gender but a comprehensive brain imaging study of more than 400 males and more than 500 females between ages 8 and 22 years, provides evidence for popular observations.

Madhura Ingalhalika

Madhura Ingalhalika

Using diffusion tensor imaging, University of Pennsylvania’s Madhura Ingalhalikar, Alex Smith, Drew Parker, Theodore D. Satterthwaite, Mark A. Elliott, Kosha Ruparel, Raquel E. Gur, Ruben C. Gur and Ragini Verma with Hakon Hakonarson of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, demonstrated that male and female brains differ in the network of neural connections.
Known as the “structural connectome,” these connections between neural structures were described by Indiana University’s Olaf Sporns, who reviewed imaging techniques to visualize their activity.

Ted Satterthwaite

Ted Satterthwaite

These gender-linked structural differences result in differing competencies.
Ingalhalikar’s team observed that male brains structures show more connections within the front and back of the brain hemisphere in the supratentorial region.

Olaf Sporns

Olaf Sporns

This area connects perception and coordinated action and enables males’ skill in quickly perceiving and applying information to a single complex task, spatial reasoning, and learning motor skills.

Ingalhalikar connectomeIn contrast, female brains contain more neural connections between hemispheres in supratentorial regions. 
This connection pattern enables females to recall faces and execute multiple complex tasks simultaneously more easily than males due the increased neural connections between analytical and intuitive processing modes.

Dardo Tomasi

Dardo Tomasi

Building on earlier work on these differences by Brookhaven National Lab’s Dardo Tomasi and Nora D. Volkow of National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ingalhalikar’s team found these differences were reversed in the cerebellar connections, where male brains showed greater intrahemispheric connectivity and female brains demonstrated more interhemispheric connections.

Nora Volkow

Nora Volkow

These structural differences lead to different development for girls and boys from an early age, and result in significant, less modifiable differences by adolescence and adulthood. 

Frequently-observed differences in male and female performance are rooted in different neural connection patterns by gender.

 -*What exceptions have you seen to findings of women’s skill in multitasking and social insight, and men’s competence in spatial reasoning and motor skill acquisition?

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