Is bigger really better?

Giant Have you ever heard of "Giant Finn"? This story, based on an Irish legend, tells about a giant with a red beard, called Giant Finn, who believes that he is the biggest and strongest giant in town. One day, however, another giant with a black beard arrives from another area. This rival is said to have as much strength in his finger as ten men have altogether. Finn is afraid of the rival and wants to escape a fight.

Giant Finn's wife Oona has another idea. She dresses Finn as if he was a baby and puts him into a big crib. Then she bakes huge cookies, some of them containing stones. When the rival arrives he asks for Giant Finn. Finn's wife tells him that her husband is not at home at the moment and asks the rival to wait for Finn. While feeding "baby Finn" with cookies without stones in them Oona, as hospitable as she is, also gives some cookies to the rival. However, these cookies contain stones. The rival looses some teeth while eating the cookies whereas the "baby" eats them without any problems. When the "baby" even bites off the rival's finger, the rival starts wondering how strong Giant Finn would be, if his baby is that strong already. He gets afraid and runs away.

Now ... this may just be an old story. But whoever was the first to tell the story must have gotten his or her notion of how different sexes solve problems from somewhere ... Observation? Reality? Or mere fantasy?

If we look at today's research results regarding gender specific problem solving strategies, we find certain regular patterns that are characteristic for men and women. In what way could these differences be related to brain and memory structure?

Research has shown that, on average, male brains are larger than female brains. Does that mean that men are smarter than women?

During a baby's development, hormones determine whether its brain will be female or male. When we look at total brain size, a boy's brain is bigger than a girl's brain at birth. But when we compare the brain size to body weight at this age, hardly any differences can be observed. A female and a male baby with the same body weight will have approximately the same brain size, but generally females are smaller than males.
Position of hippocampus
In other words, the total brain size of an organism does not necessarily reflect its intelligence. Or would you suggest that hippopotamuses are more intelligent than humans? Okay, now we have seen that mens' total brain size does not make them automatically smarter. But what could be the difference then?

Up to this day there are no clear answers to this question. Many researchers agree that there are structural differences between the male and the female brain. The hippocampus, for example, is a region perhaps most associated with learning and memory. Today significant differences in size, structure and function between male and female hippocampi are proven.

An intriguing hippocampal difference is the female and male reaction to chronic stress. Chronic over-secretion of stress hormones, such as cortisol, affects brain function and memory. Too much cortisol can prevent the brain from consolidating a new memory or retrieving existing memories.

Reactions on stress It is known that chronic stress causes more damage to the hippocampus in males than in females. Men often react to stress with a "flight-or-fight" response, i.e. withdrawing from the stressful situation or behaving aggressively. In extreme cases men are more likely than women to develop stress-related disorders, such as hypertension, violent behavior, or abuse of alcohol or hard drugs. Women on the other hand tend to react to stress with a "tend-and-befriend" response, i.e. seeking social contact and support from others. This tendency seems to be an unconscious strategy to protect oneself.

Being aware of this important difference can be very helpful for individuals in learning and teaching situations. Exams, presentations, courses etc., they all can cause stress no matter if you are male or female. When we are sensitive towards the stress reaction of the opposite sex, it is much easier to cope with difficult situations and to work together efficiently.

 Brainy's tip

Woman or man, boy or girl - with MemoryLifter you can learn efficiently and without stress. For this reason MemoryLifter provides an automated learning planner. This feature acts like a learning alarm clock to regularly quiz you and help you remember information faster and longer. If you are busy and want to pause while learning, you can click the Snooze button on the toolbar, and MemoryLifter will go away for a specified amount of time and then popup to start again. To specify this amount of time open the Learning Options menu (by clicking the Learning Options button, which is located next to the Snooze button) and click the "Snooze/Quit Planner" tab. Then select "After a specific time (min)" and type in the amount of minutes into the "Snooze and popup every" textboxes. Confirm with OK.

MemoryLifter is available for free. The success of this freeware depends on whether people recommend it to others. Please forward this newsletter or tell a friend.



  • 2009