Before diving in to the next "superpower" of the female brain, let's go through a few statistical facts about women:
A little over 10 years ago, only 7% of the entire prison population in the US was female;
There is a significantly higher rate of Antisocial Personality Disorder among men as compared to women;
Research shows that women are generally better at keeping strong negative emotions in check, and when a woman does act on her negative emotions, she will more often attack verbally rather than physically;
In general, women tend to live longer than men.
Another interesting fact?
The prefrontal cortex (or PFC) - the area of the brain where anger and aggression are controlled - is larger in women than in men, and a larger PFC is correlated with higher rates of conscientiousness, better decision-making, and greater overall impulse control.
In 1920, a longitudinal study was started by a researcher named Lewis Terman; the study began with 1,548 gifted children and the research followed these same children long into their adult lives. Although Terman died in 1956, his work was carried on by his students, and then his students’ students.
Researchers have used the data from this study to attempt to answer questions related to the factors that contribute to a person’s success, health, and longevity. Almost one hundred years after the study first began, researchers concluded that the number one predictor of longevity is what they termed "conscientiousness."
Conscientiousness involves using forethought, planning, and perseverance in many aspects of life – all functions of the PFC. Taking this one step further, it would make sense to think that a larger PFC can contribute to living a longer and healthier life. Why? Because conscientiousness enlists self-control to make better life choices.
People high in conscientiousness are less likely to smoke, drink heavily, abuse drugs, or engage in life threatening or risky behaviors. So it's no wonder they live longer! These are the people that come to a complete stop at stop signs, follow doctor’s orders, and pay all their taxes.
Again, these are all functions of the PFC, which happens to be larger in women.
Self-control and conscientiousness, which make up this week’s strength, can help bring us to the last in this series on female brain strengths: just a little bit of healthy worry.
However, before we go on, I want to clarify the purpose of this series: my goal here is to simply point out statistically measured correlations and differences between men’s brains and women’s brains. This is not to be taken as me saying that men are "better" than women.
At some points I might add in my own commentary, or make connections to Catholic thinking, but none of this commentary equals misandry.
Some of the differences in brain structures correlate with certain behaviors that can be viewed as strengths. However, a man can perform any one of these functions that, based on brain structure, are more naturally performed by a woman. The difference is that a man might need more motivation, might use different parts of the brain, and might need more practice.
For example, if I said that a weight is curled by use of the bicep, and the bigger the bicep, the heavier the weight that can be lifted, it would not be sexist, discriminatory, or inconsequential to say, “Men, on average, have larger biceps and therefore generally have the capability to curl heavier weights.”
There are women who can curl the same weight, though it would probably take them longer to build the same amount of muscle (since men have more testosterone, which builds muscle) to curl the same weight. Also, some women might be able to lift the same weight if they use two hands. The final action might be the same – curling the weight – but they have arrived at it differently.
Analogously, men as people can also display the same strengths covered in these articles, but they might take longer, need more motivation, or arrive at the final action differently than how a woman does.
There are also strengths that the male brain has over the female brain. Some of them are implicit in what we are covering in this series (since something might be a strength or weakness relative to the context) and some of men’s strengths are separate. (I have elaborated on these strengths of the male brain elsewhere, particularly in this article.)
Another note: “Correlation does not equal causation” is a very important distinction when we apply these brain differences to virtue. There might be an objection to this article series based on a concern that I am saying women are more virtuous than men.
Let me be clear: these brain differences do not create virtue.
Virtue is a description of action, which is a complex collaboration of many different systems, including, but not limited to, brain anatomy. A person may very well act virtuously - but in opposition to - their brain anatomy. For instance, a teenage boy with raging testosterone certainly must act against his brain anatomy at times if he is to act virtuously!
The overall take home point, as mentioned before, is that men and women are very different but complementary. This series is based on some of the functions of the brain that, generally speaking, enable women to perform certain functions more easily or naturally than their male counterparts.
Now that that's cleared up, let's move on to the fifth and final "superpower" of the female brain: a little bit of healthy worry!
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>> Want to learn more about the Male brain? Read On the Masculine Genius.
Episode #75: Gender Fluidity or Complementarity? (Part 1 of 4)