Brain Androgyny: What is it and What are its Benefits?

Brain androgyny is a condition that appears to have an important link to mental health. Find out more in this article.
Brain Androgyny: What is it and What are its Benefits?

Last update: 19 September, 2021

They say that men and women are very different from each other. However, how accurate is this statement? Well, at the biological level, some authors have pointed out the existence of male and female brains. They base this on functional and structural variables. However, new studies seem to demonstrate the existence of cerebral androgyny, an intermediate point between the two poles.

It seems that this condition has many benefits at an adaptive level. For that reason, this area is an active field of research. Furthermore, it opens up interesting questions about gender roles in society.

Is it necessary to discard the fact of masculine and feminine stereotypes in terms of adaptation? In this article, we’ll try to answer this question.

Brain androgyny

The human brain is one of the most studied organs in the history of science. Nevertheless, we still don’t fully understand it. In fact, every day there’s a new study that gives us new information on the subject.

One of the most discussed aspects concerns the sexual differentiation of the brain. In other words, is a man’s brain different from a woman’s? At first glance, it certainly seems that it is.

To start with, the volume of this organ in men is, on average, 13 to 18 percent greater than in women. Secondly, regarding the hemispheres, in males, the left hemisphere is more developed. Thirdly, differences in the size of the hippocampus or the density of gray and white matter have also been identified. Therefore, is this the reason why men and women behave differently?

As a matter of fact, other research indicates that brain androgyny is a more valid view. To better understand this condition, we mention a study by Joel et al (2015) on brain differences. In this study, the authors analyzed 1,400 human brain images. They concluded that each brain has a unique combination of qualities. Consequently, male or female brains don’t exist.

Later, in 2018, the same author and her team published a new work in which they analyzed the structure of 2,176 human brains. They didn’t find any significant differences between the brains of men and women.

Enlightened brain

Brain androgyny and mental health

An “androgynous” person refers to an individual with behaviors that combine traits considered both masculine and feminine at the social level. Following along this line, brain androgyny has been associated with greater cognitive flexibility when adapting to the environment.

In this sense, Zhang et al (2021) conducted a study in which they analyzed neural images of 9,620 people. The researchers established a male and female brain continuum or spectrum. Those who were somewhere in the middle showed fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, compared to those who were elsewhere on the spectrum.

Starting from this premise, it’s possible to affirm that a more androgynous cognitive configuration tends to be beneficial. The reason for this is that this kind of brain has more plasticity, which facilitates problem-solving and adaptation. In turn, this promotes psychological well-being, as less stress and anxiety are experienced.

Group of neurons

Implications for gender stereotypes

In recent years, discussions around the notion of gender have increased both academically and among the general public. In fact, the stereotypes associated with the masculine and feminine are pointed out as causative factors of various mental health problems. On the other hand, cerebral androgyny is related to greater psychological well-being.

These works reinforce the idea that gender stereotypes can be harmful to people. For example, on a social level, it’s suggested that men don’t express their feelings in an open way. In addition, they tend to suffer social pressure to be the main economic provider within the family.

For their part, women are often victims of discrimination in traditionally male environments. As a result, many of them give up on achieving goals because they see them as impossible.

Factors associated with male and female stereotypes can produce emotional distress in men and women. This is increasingly seen in those who strive more to fit within the patterns established at the social level.

Contrary to this, individuals with a more androgynous behavior would be less influenced by these lines marked on the social plane. Thus, they’re less likely to suffer from these kinds of pressures and tend to feel better about their lives.

To conclude, while more research is needed, current evidence shows that brain androgyny has certain health benefits. Furthermore, the findings we mentioned earlier highlight the need for more research on the impact of gender stereotypes. It’s also necessary to assess what measures would be useful to reduce its consequences.

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  • Joel, D., Berman, Z., Tavor, I., Wexler, N., Gaber, O., Stein, Y., … & Assaf, Y. (2015). Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(50), 15468-15473.
  • Joel, D., Persico, A., Salhov, M., Berman, Z., Oligschläger, S., Meilijson, I., & Averbuch, A. (2018). Analysis of human brain structure reveals that the brain “types” typical of males are also typical of females, and vice versa. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 399.
  • Zhang, Y., Luo, Q., Huang, C. C., Lo, C. Y. Z., Langley, C., Desrivières, S., … & IMAGEN consortium. (2021). The Human Brain Is Best Described as Being on a Female/Male Continuum: Evidence from a Neuroimaging Connectivity Study. Cerebral Cortex, 31(6), 3021-3033.
  • Ruigrok, A. N., Salimi-Khorshidi, G., Lai, M. C., Baron-Cohen, S., Lombardo, M. V., Tait, R. J., & Suckling, J. (2014). A meta-analysis of sex differences in human brain structure. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 39, 34-50.