Deep, dark secrets of his and her brains

1 minute read

An article of that title by Robert Lee Hotz of the LA Times is on the Yahoo News site. It is a profile of neuroscientist Sandra Witelson (McMaster University), including her research on gender differences in the brain, and her exploration of Einstein's brain tissue.

Here is an excerpt:

The brains in Witelson's freezer are contested terrain in a controversy over gender equality and mental performance.
Her findings -- published in Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet and other peer-reviewed journals -- buttress the proposition that basic mental differences between men and women stem in part from physical differences in the brain.
Witelson is convinced that gender shapes the anatomy of male and female brains in separate but equal ways beginning at birth.
On average, she said, the brains of women and men are neither better nor worse, but they are measurably different.
Men's brains, for instance, are typically bigger -- but on the whole, no smarter.
"What is astonishing to me," Witelson said, "is that it is so obvious that there are sex differences in the brain and these are likely to be translated into some cognitive differences, because the brain helps us think and feel and move and act.
"Yet there is a large segment of the population that wants to pretend this is not true."

How did her discoveries start?

"I had the first two patients, and they were so very different," Witelson said. "I kept looking and looking at them, trying to see what the difference could be."
Then she consulted the donor documentation for each tissue sample. "Finally, I saw that one was a man, and one was a woman."
Among women, the neurons in the cortex were closer together. There were as many as 12% more neurons in the female brain.
That might explain how women could demonstrate the same levels of intelligence as men despite the difference in brain size.
"So among female brains, the cortex is constructed differently, with neurons packed more closely together," she said.

The story of Einstein's brain is too quirky to miss. Read the whole thing.