You’ve reached content that’s exclusive to AARP members.

To continue, you’ll need to become an AARP member. Join now, and you’ll have access to all the great content and features in Staying Sharp, plus more AARP member benefits.


Already a member?

Want to read more? Create an account on

A healthy lifestyle helps protect the brain. Make brain health a habit and register on to access Staying Sharp.

Login to Unlock Access

Not Registered?

Do Men’s and Women’s Brains Really Differ?

Gender does account for some differences in brain function — but how much and why is complicated


Add to My Favorites
My Favorites page is currently unavailable.

Add to My Favorites

Added to My Favorites


False: Men are better than women at math. Men overestimate their math abilities, a study in the journal Sex Roles found, even though research shows that males and females perform equally well. So why does the math myth persist? Many psychologists blame cultural stereotypes and parental and societal expectations for how females view their math abilities.

True: Women are better listeners than men. When women listen, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are involved, as opposed to just the left for men, an Indiana University School of Medicine study found. Women listen with their eyes, ears and sometimes whole body, while men have learned to obtain facts, make a judgment and fix the problem, says Catherine Franssen, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience studies at Longwood University.

False: Men’s brains are more active than women’s. 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 areas such as focus, impulse control, anxiety and mood.

True: Men have a better sense of direction than women. When researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology used a virtual maze to test navigation skills, men solved 50 percent more of the tasks than women did. Women and men have different navigational strategies, the study authors theorize, though the reasons are unknown.

True: Women are less selfish than men. Women are more likely to get a flood of dopamine — a pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter — when they perform selfless acts or are generous, research from the University of Zurich showed. When women shared, their brain’s reward center, called the striatum, was activated. For men, however, their striatum fired up when they acted in a selfish and self-centered way.

True: Men’s brains age more rapidly than women’s brains. Metabolically speaking, women’s brains appear to be almost four years younger than men’s brains of the same age, a study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis 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. “Healthy women’s brains will age better than healthy men, but unhealthy women may not age as well as unhealthy men,” says Franssen.

Up Next

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed

Added to Favorites

Favorite removed