Gender differences in frontal lobes

Frontal lobes is the shorthand for the prefrontal cortex. It’s an important part of the human brain, the conductor of the large orchestra called the brain. It’s the seat of our executive functioning. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially-unacceptable outcomes).

Before, I wrote about gender difference in empathy and other neurobiological subjects. Mark the word difference, not superior or inferior, not better of worse, just different. Reading the book “The New Executive Brain, frontal lobes in a complex world” I came across an interesting chapter about gender differences in cognitive styles and frontal lobes.

Men and women differ in decision making strategy. They tested humans with the cognitive bias test for decision making. In this test you’re presented with three geometric forms. One target and two choices. You’re asked after showing the target geometric figure which of the other two you “liked the most”. Women tend to choose more context independent, meaning that they mostly choose the other figures based on stable preferences. They always picked blue or red, square or circle. Men choose context dependent, meaning they match their choice to the target. As the targets changed so did their choices. Although their was an overlap between the two curves the difference between gender was robust and significant.

The book gave an excellent example. Women tend to always save 5% of their income, for men this is different. If his monthly income is below a certain amount he saves nothing, if it’s the usual he will save about 5%, if the income is higher he will save 10%. The optimal strategy is probably a dynamic balance between both. Novel situations mostly prefer the context dependent strategy, the “default strategy”. Neither strategy is better than the other, a balance depending on the situation is best.

Other gender differences in frontal lobes:

  • Protrusion of the right frontal pole over the left is more common in men
  • Frontal cortical thickness of the left and right frontal cortex is the same in women but right thicker than left in men
  • Estrogen receptors are symmetrically distributed across the frontal lobes in women, not in men

It’s probable that the frontal lobes are functionally different between men and women.