Many people do not understand why men behave in impulsive, irrational, or dangerous ways when angry. At times, it seems like they don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.
However, there is a biological explanation for this difference. Researchers have shown that just because men are physically larger and as a result have bigger heads than women, they aren’t smarter.
Studies have shown that male brains take longer to mature and the prefrontal cortex develops slower than women. Men tend to express more anger than women, the researchers suggest, because the part of the brain that modulates aggression (prefrontal cortex) is smaller than it is in women. In addition, the amygdala in men’s brains is larger than in women’s. However, even though women’s brains are smaller, they have a higher processing capacity, thus offsetting the difference in size.
This does not mean that men cannot make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong. It does explain why:
Men are more likely to:
•Act on impulse
•Misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
•Get involved in fights
•Engage in dangerous or risky behavior
Men are less likely to:
•Think before they act
•Pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions
•Modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors
Men and women respond differently to fear signals coming from the amygdala. When the amygdala fires a fear signal, a “fight or flight” reaction is triggered. We have now learned that women’s responses are different from men’s due to their distinct biological makeup.
Women’s hormones are dominated by estrogen and based on the evolution of their brains, it tells them the way to safety is to gather in a group. Women have learned that they can reduce stress and promote a feeling of safety by connecting. This difference, combined with the fact that women have less testosterone and more estrogen flowing through their brains, enables women to look for solutions to conflict, even if it means they might make more sacrifices to resolve the situation. Women tend to look for ways to compromise and serve the needs of others, even at their own expense.
To show how this social connection is hardwired, researchers found that baby girls make more eye contact and focus on faces more frequently in the first three months of life, compared to boys. The boys moved their gaze around the room to investigate their environment and rarely glanced at their mothers.
It is believed that women’s ability to read faces enabled them not only to interpret what others needed, but also enabled them to anticipate others behavior, so they could protect themselves and their children. Protection was essential: if women could band together with other women, they would be in a better position to protect their children and fend off any attacks. Women’s brains are programmed to keep social harmony.
Men on the other hand, are programmed to compete in order to reproduce and pass on their genes. The hunter-gatherer male reality demanded aggression and rules that fostered hierarchy, competition, and dominance. The testosterone drive is part of that. While females also had to compete, sometimes for mates and sometimes for food, their primary goals were social support, childcare, and child protection.
Testosterone flooding the brain of has the opposite effect as estrogen: social withdrawal and the desire to be left alone. From a biological stance, men are not interested in conversation because testosterone decreases their desire to socialize except in pursuit of sex or competition. Men’s hormones tell them that dominance and control are the more efficient way to promote safety.
Men are hardwired to get stressed around challenges to their independence and authority. They have a biological drive to seek respect and find their place in the pecking order through dominance and aggression. Moreover, the male amygdala has testosterone receptors that heighten these responses, providing a biological reason for why men are more prone to displays of anger and quickly escalate situations into conflict. They don’t look for social connection in same way women do.
Both men and women experience advantages and disadvantages from these brain differences. The more you understand your strengths and weaknesses, the better able you will be to devise a plan to leverage those innate abilities and compensate for deficits. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the biological basis of who you are can help you to understand how to best use the advantages your brain provides and how to make changes that will enhance your ability to succeed in your present environment.
Knowledge is power and we shouldn’t be afraid of understanding the biological component that contributes to making us who we are.