Women Have More Active Brains Than Men: World’s Largest Brain Study

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Amen Clinics recently published the largest functional brain imaging study to date, examining the differences between the brains of men and women. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the gender differences in how our brains are wired.


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Speaker 1: Hey. Welcome back. Today we're going to talk about a study we published here at Amen Clinics.

Speaker 2: When did this come out?

Speaker 1: It just came out beginning of August in The Journal Of Alzheimer's Disease. It's actually the largest brain imaging study ever published on gender-based differences. Based on 46,034 scans, we've looked at the differences between the male and female brains.

Speaker 2: Uh-oh.

Speaker 1: Why we published it in The Journal Of Alzheimer's Disease is women get Alzheimer's disease, two-thirds of the cases are women.

Speaker 2: Is that because women live longer? Is it because-

Speaker 1: Partly because they live longer. For some reason, they also produce more of something called "Beta-amyloid plaques". It can negatively impact their brains. It seems to happen more after menopause.

Speaker 2: Oh.

Speaker 1: The lack of estrogen and the lack of progesterone that happens. The study was really fascinating. I've been doing brain spect imaging for the last 26 years. At Amen Clinics, we have seen over 130,000 scans on people from 111 countries. This is not new information for us, but I've always noticed that female brains are more active.

Speaker 2: Really? All you have to do is watch a guy with a remote control in his hand watching TV and you kind of know that they're mostly brain dead. I don't mean that as an insult, but it's pretty funny. They don't hear what you say.

Speaker 1: You've just offended half of the population.

Speaker 2: No, it's funny. I'll say something to you, if you're watching basketball or tennis, you don't hear what I say. You're totally focused on the TV.

Speaker 1: You know, I don't know when you're going to be listening to this podcast, but it was today the guy that wronte the manifesto in Google on why diversity is a bad thing-

Speaker 2: What?

Speaker 1: Women don't make as good of engineers got fired at Google today. It's actually his manifesto that I wouldn't agree with that what we found in this study is that the female brain is wired for leadership.

Speaker 2: Oh, interesting.

Speaker 1: The female brain is much more active in the pre-frontal cortex. Now, why is that important? The pre-frontal cortex is a third of the brain. It's the largest part of the human brain. We think it's actually the part of the brain that makes you human because it's involved with executive decisions like focus, forethought, judgment, impulse-

Speaker 2: When you think about what it takes to be a mother and run a household, that makes sense. Your brain never shuts off. I'm asleep and I'm thinking about-

Speaker 1: That didn't happen actually before you had Chloe.

Speaker 2: No, no.

Speaker 1: You're brain got re-wired-

Speaker 2: Absolutely.

Speaker 1: Through pregnancy.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. I became way more anxious, focused, looking behind me all the time, thinking about 6 things at once. I wasn't like that before I had Chloe.

Speaker 1: From an executive standpoint, if you think of focus, forethought, judgment, impulse control, organization, planning, empathy, learning from the mistakes you've made, that's what makes a good mother, absolutely, but it's also what makes a good CEO.

Speaker 2: Right.

Speaker 1: Often children further disrupt professional pathways, disrupt may be the wrong word, but that's what happens when you take a break.

Speaker 2: I know and this is really going to irritate some women, but interestingly enough I loved my job before I got pregnant, loved my job, and no one thought I would ever give up my career to be a stay at home mom including me. I never thought I would do that. Something weird happens when you have a baby, we know this. I was no way going to do that, I was the least likely person to do that, had a nanny lined up. I had that baby and bam, was never going to happen. I was never going to leave her with someone I didn't know. It was not going to happen. I would sell my house before that would happen. Something odd-

Speaker 1: Called oxytocin.

Speaker 2: Right. It's the weirdest feeling though.

Speaker 1: It's a bonding, cuddle.

Speaker 2: Right.

Speaker 1: What we also found was the limbic brain in females was dramatically more active than in males, highly, statistically, clinically, significant. If we just talk about those 2 areas in the brain. The pre-frontal cortex and the one statistic that really just hammers this home is who goes to jail, males.

Speaker 2: Right.

Speaker 1: 14 times more than females. If your pre-frontal cortex is lower in activity, there is a higher incidence of substance abuse.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Speaker 1: There's a higher incidence-

Speaker 2: Fighting.

Speaker 1: ADHD.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Speaker 1: There's a higher incidence of behavior issues of saying things you actually shouldn't say. When I lecture, I often will go "How many people are married?" Half the audience or more will raise their hand and we're married.

Speaker 2: Really?

Speaker 1: We are. I'm grateful, thank you. I'll go to the married people "Should you say everything you think?"

Speaker 2: Dear lord, no.

Speaker 1: The whole audience laughs because it's funny. You absolutely should not say everything you think in a relationship.

Speaker 2: You need brakes on those frontal lobes.

Speaker 1: Right. Jerry Seinfeld once said, "The brain is a sneaky organ." We all get weird, crazy, stupid, sexual, violent thoughts.

Speaker 2: Right. It's like "Oops, did that get out?"

Speaker 1: I saw today, it was on the news, I think it was in London, this woman was running down a path and to her side, there's a bus. A guy running by just all the sudden reaches out and pushes her-

Speaker 2: Oh, no!

Speaker 1: In front of the bus. She didn't get hurt, but they're looking for that guy. It's not an unusual though to go "Oh, I should do that." It's a very unusual thing for someone to actually act out. Taylor Swift is in court today because she was in a meet and greet and she said she took a picture with this DJ and while she was there he grabbed her butt. He said that he didn't do it and that she has ruined his life. She said he did it. I guarantee you at meet and greets that more than one guy has thought about grabbing her rear end.

Speaker 2: I would end up being the one in trouble if that to me.

Speaker 1: You don't do it because it's inappropriate and your pre-frontal cortex is the break that stops you from doing every stupid thing you think. Women are better at that, not when they're drunk because that drops the pre-frontal cortex. When it's overactive-

Speaker 2: With women, it is more likely to be overactive. We scanned our daughter and holy moly-

Speaker 1: It was very-

Speaker 2: Very and that fits her. She's always anxious, she has [inaudible 00:07:52].

Speaker 1: You can use it like she does, you can use it in a good way to make sure you got stuff done early, if you say you're going to be on time, that you're on time.

Speaker 2: Or early.

Speaker 1: Yeah, but that can be a great trait.

Speaker 2: which is why women can be good leaders. What I wanted to ask you was, yes they can be good leaders, but at what point does it make them vulnerable to problems?

Speaker 1: Females are also more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, to eating disorders-

Speaker 2: Right. That little OCD.

Speaker 1: Body dysmorphic disorders, body image things. The treatment for women, my experience is often different than the treatment for men. Here at Amen Clinics, we believe we should actually look at your brain before we treat it so we know what's going on in your brain. By large, that's what we see, female brains, much more active. The exciting news from the study is imaging can really give you more information to specifically help your patients. There's not one thing I've seen in the brain that goes "Oh, well women wouldn't be good at that." The gender-bias-

Speaker 2: I could see where it would help you to go ... If I have a busy brain, if I'm anxious, these would be my strengths. I like to be early, I like to be organized, I like to be ... it really bothers me when people aren't. It could also help me with ... Okay, what are my vulnerabilities? It really bothers when people aren't and so I have to be careful in how I handle that. I am more prone to depression and anxiety and knowing that can be very helpful. Also, what about ... This is a really interesting study. Talking about leadership, how are women with ... If you're a CEO, you've got to fire people.

Speaker 1: It's harder.

Speaker 2: That's my question.

Speaker 1: Collaboration, they're often much better at that and bonding. Letting people go can be harder, not for everybody.

Speaker 2: Not for me.

Speaker 1: You don't like it. I know you.

Speaker 2: I don't like it, but if you can make it-

Speaker 1: The other interesting part of the study we found in the male brain that the visual centers and the coordination centers were more active.

Speaker 2: Right.

Speaker 1: Does that mean they'll be better at throwing and catching a football? Probably. Will they be better at shooting a gun? Maybe. You're great at shooting a gun and our daughter-

Speaker 2: Our daughter, oh my gosh.

Speaker 1: Is great.

Speaker 2: She's got amazing hand-eye coordination.

Speaker 1: Just because one gender has a tendency to be this way or that way, it clearly doesn't mean everyone is like that. Yes, boys are diagnosed with ADHD 5 times more than girls, but when girls have it, it's so important to treat because left untreated it will devastate their lives. Get on Amenclinics.com, you can read our paper and learn more about the differences between the male and female brain. Thanks for listening to the Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Stay with us.