Compared to women, men are more likely to act impulsively, misread social cues, misinterpret others’ emotions, get involved in physical fights, and engage in risky behavior. They’re also less likely than women to think before they act, consider the consequences of their actions, and modify their behavior when it’s inappropriate or even dangerous.
Men are generally larger than women, and as a result they have bigger heads. But that doesn’t make men smarter than women, according to Louann Brizendine, author of The Male Brain. Women’s brains are smaller than men’s, but the female brain has a higher processing capacity. In fact, men’s brains take longer to mature than women’s do, and the prefrontal cortex of the brain—the center of reasoning and judgment and the part of the brain that modulates aggression—is smaller and develops more slowly in men than in women, as Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang explain in their book Welcome to Your Child’s Brain. A 2014 study published in the journal Violence and Gender identified this difference as one reason for men’s tendency to express more anger than women.
Men, by contrast, are programmed to compete so they can reproduce and pass on their genes. Our male ancestors were hunter-gatherers, and that work called for aggression as well as rules that fostered hierarchy, competition, and dominance. And the testosterone that bathes the male brain promotes social withdrawal and the desire to be left alone.
From a biological standpoint, a man is relatively uninterested in conversation because testosterone decreases his desire to socialize, except when competition makes socialization necessary or when he is in pursuit of sex. Testosterone also tells a man that dominance and control are the way to safety, and so he’s hardwired to experience challenges to his independence and authority as stressors. He has a biological drive to seek respect and find his place in the pecking order through dominance and aggression.
Moreover, the male amydgala has a high concentration of sex hormone receptors, including testosterone, that heighten these responses, a fact believed to explain why men are more prone than women to displays of anger, and why men’s stress reactions quickly escalate to con ict. Men don’t look for social connection the way women do.
Men’s and women’s stances toward social connection appear to be another hardwired characteristic. In The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine cites researchers who found that baby boys in the first three months of life looked around to investigate their environments but rarely glanced at their mothers, whereas baby girls of the same age made more eye contact with their mothers and focused more frequently on faces. Women tend to have greater ability than men to read faces, a characteristic that enabled our female ancestors not only to interpret what others needed but also to anticipate others’ behavior so that they could protect themselves and their children.
In short, women’s brains are programmed for social harmony, and men’s brains are programmed for social hierarchy backed by competition and dominance. But this doesn’t mean that men can’t make good decisions, tell the difference between right and wrong, or learn to manage their anger. Biology may account for certain tendencies, but men have the power to counteract those tendencies with self control and healthy choices.