Content starts here

Are Men’s and Women’s Brains Truly Different?

A female doctor looking at MRI scans of human brains
sturti/Getty Images

There’s growing evidence that women’s and men’s brains work differently. Here are four gender-based myths and the complicated facts behind each.

Men are better than women at math.

MYTH. Men just think they’re better, even though research shows that males and females perform equally well in mathematics. Why? Many psychologists blame cultural stereotypes and societal expectations. In a Florida State University study, girls rated their math skills significantly lower than boys did, despite no detectable differences in skill levels. Girls can carry those skewed views into adulthood.

Women are better listeners than men.

FACT. When women listen, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are involved, as opposed to just the left for men. And women are typically more engaged listeners than men, says Catherine Franssen, the director of NeuroStudies  in the Department of Psychology at Longwood University. “This may be related to women’s tendency to speak more, ask more questions and look more closely at body language when listening,” she says.

Men’s brains are more active than women’s.

MYTH. The opposite is true. A study of more than 46,000 brain scans found that women’s brains are much more active than men’s. This was particularly true in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s involved with focus and impulse control. That’s why women tend to be better at things such as multitasking, self-control and empathy.

Men’s brains age more rapidly than women’s brains.

FACT. Metabolically speaking, women’s brains appear to be almost four years younger than men’s brains of the same age, one study found. That means a 65-year-old woman’s brain is more like the brain of a 61-year-old man. But there’s a catch. When estrogen plummets after menopause, so does brain metabolism, one reason women are more vulnerable than men to Alzheimer’s disease, depression and anxiety disorders.

Learn more on AARP® Staying Sharp®

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

Search AARP Blogs