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White Matter and Gray Matter a Matter of the Sexes
January 21, 2005 3:38 AM   Subscribe

She may not have the grey matter, but what's that matter anymore, anyway? A recent study shows that men have more gray matter, women have more white matter and in the end these differences seem to be no matter. Apparently men have more raw computing power, while women have a more efficient infrastructure -- resulting in similar general intelligence.
posted by ThePrawn (27 comments total)

 
While thoughts immediately jump to recent events at Harvard, I find it far more interesting that the brain is so flexible. I'm reminded of way artificial eyes send data to the brain: eventually, the patient's brain learns how to see.
posted by Maxson at 4:09 AM on January 21, 2005


That Wired article was great, Maxson, it's not often I get through the "excited nerd" tone of their output when it's more than a couple of pages.
But it was from 2002 - any idea how things are progressing now?
posted by NinjaPirate at 4:49 AM on January 21, 2005


And here, I always thought "grey matter" was simply a colloquialism for brains. It's an acceptible neurologist term, and more than that, it's only one of several (er, at least two) types of "matter" in the brain? That's heavy, man.
posted by Plutor at 4:56 AM on January 21, 2005


re: Wired article Unfortunately, I haven't found much beyond the article itself. The Dobelle Institute has sadly lost its founder (one of the major people interviewed in the article). This is the latest thing I found from Normann. Humayun works at the Doheny Eye Institute, which mentions clinical testing for their retinal implant.

re: White/grey matter Typing "grey matter" and "white matter" into Wikipedia brings up a nice summary of what each is supposed to do. And yeah, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that these are technical terms (what, no Latin?).
posted by Maxson at 6:20 AM on January 21, 2005


I thought the recent study showed men have more gay matter.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:33 AM on January 21, 2005


Having more white matter dosn't mean you have a more 'efficient infrastructure'. White matter is just the 'wiring'

The reason that there isn't much of a diffrence in noticed intelegence is that the amount of neurons isn't a very good predictor of intelegence in humans. And women often have smaller bodies so they need less brain matter to manage them.
posted by delmoi at 7:23 AM on January 21, 2005


Quiet, you.

We all know there is no discernable neurological difference between men and women.

Duh.
posted by sourwookie at 7:53 AM on January 21, 2005


And women often have smaller bodies so they need less brain matter to manage them.
Sorry, can't help it. --About the obese. Would they supposedly have bigger brains, or lower IQ's?
posted by ThePrawn at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2005


Something that always confuses me about these studies--how do they prove that these differences aren't a result of men and women being encouraged to use their brains differently as opposed to a natual occurence?
posted by dame at 8:06 AM on January 21, 2005


And women often have smaller bodies so they need less brain matter to manage them.

Nope.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:14 AM on January 21, 2005


What people seem to have lost track of in the discussions surrounding these issues is that intelligence is a meaningless metric. If we're not sure how to define it, and we're even less sure how to measure it (beyond broad human vs. animal comparisons, I suppose) how can we say that one type of brain has more or less intelligence than another?

What we could say (if the appropriate studies were done) is that men's brains might be better at certain specific things than women's brains, on average, and vice versa. This is where this study might be relevant: perhaps the higher percentage of gray matter makes men better at X, while the white matter makes women better at Y.
posted by event at 8:18 AM on January 21, 2005


I hate these stories. What they are saying is that on average, men have more grey matter than women and women more white matter then men. Of course everyone will assume it means that all men have more grey matter and will use it to try and "understand" all sorts of phenomena. Ugh.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 AM on January 21, 2005


We are talking about ivy leaguers, Ironmouth--who have been exposed to little stupidity that isn't alcohol induced. Sheltered.
posted by ThePrawn at 9:21 AM on January 21, 2005


Actually, the part of the article talking about where this info might be used was interesting -- head traumas. Trauma to the same physical portion of the brain might affect men and women differently.

*That* justification, I think, unlike "girls brains are different and that makes science hard," is awesome.
posted by occhiblu at 9:22 AM on January 21, 2005


(So different, apparently, that they also forget appropriate apostrophes. Girls'.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:26 AM on January 21, 2005


Also interesting.
posted by rushmc at 10:52 AM on January 21, 2005


I think it is terrifically cool that male and female brains might work differently.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 AM on January 21, 2005


The only reason we call brains "gray matter" is because of our sexist society! Start calling it "white matter" and smash the patriarchy!

Seriously, I think it's cool that they might work differently and still do pretty much the same things.
posted by transona5 at 12:49 PM on January 21, 2005


I think male and female brains DO work differently and it's cool because it's very adaptive and humans are a lot better off for it. Survival-wise and general enjoyment-of-life-wise. What can be more fun and brain-growing than to talk to someone who sees aspects of life in different ways than you do?
posted by scheptech at 12:56 PM on January 21, 2005


And women often have smaller bodies so they need less brain matter to manage them.

sorry for the pile-on female foetuses lay down more neuronal connections during development, and keep more of them, than male foetuses.

Very interesting that different general make-up of the brain results in similar (I don't want to say but I can't think of a better word) performances. I wonder if there would be differences if a group of male infants grew up in isolation compared to a group a female infants that grew up in isolation (I know there are novels/movies kind-of (?) about this, but other than LotFlies, I haven't been exposed).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:21 PM on January 21, 2005


We are talking about ivy leaguers, Ironmouth--who have been exposed to little stupidity that isn't alcohol induced.

They've all had to deal with Ivy League adminstration, which should prepare them for all manner of stupidity, even imaginative stupidity. Of course, not everyone else is bright either - there are too many (undergrad, grad, faculty) who may be smart, but at the same time can still be dim. This isn't anti-intellectualism, just reality, myself included.

posted by jb at 2:41 PM on January 21, 2005


I wonder if there would be differences if a group of male infants grew up in isolation compared to a group a female infants that grew up in isolation

Of course there would be. Have you ever seen evidence that men and women create the same sorts of social environments?

There are all sorts of stereotypes that one can bring up, and ultimately there is a kernel of truth to them. Take teenaged boys versus girls, for instance: physical versus psychosocial fights.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:59 PM on January 21, 2005


More neurons isn't better. By the age of two, you only possess 50% of the neurons that were originally created in your brain, and they continue to die off subsequently, even though some people get smarter after that age.

Lots of neurologists are looking into things like estrogen effects on the brain, especially the aged brain, but so far there's no clear consensus on what, if anything, the gender differences cause with respect to cognition.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:33 PM on January 21, 2005


Are there no parents on metafilter? Is no one going to point out the shocking cognitive differences between girls and boys? Girls are lightyears ahead of boys from the very start. While two year old boys are smashing blocks together at the playgroup, two year old girls have memorized all the puzzles and are having conversations together in the corner. With complete, articulate sentences.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:37 PM on January 21, 2005


Boys is teh dumb, yup. We eats rocks.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 AM on January 22, 2005


Girls are lightyears ahead of boys from the very start. While two year old boys are smashing blocks together at the playgroup, two year old girls have memorized all the puzzles and are having conversations together in the corner.

LOL Clearly your sample size is very limited, because it is highly unrepresentative.
posted by rushmc at 12:32 PM on January 23, 2005


Parent here.

I have 2 boys and they were both holding cognitive conversation at the age of two.

At three the younger one wanted to be an archaeologist [and knew what an archaeologist did]. At the age of five he was helping out in the Museum of Natural History, sorting through fossils and rocks and he could tell you if it was a bone fossil or a coral [very common in this area].

If you speak to a child as if he/she understands what you're saying [no baby-talk] then he/she will learn how to make conversation faster and have a greater ability to vocalize regardless of gender.
posted by kamylyon at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2005


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