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Is N-i-c-e! Was Borat on to Something?

April 26, 2007 By:
Frank Rosci, JE Feature
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Frank Rosci Jewish Exponent Feature "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," the film phenomenon that caused laugh riots and ample measures of controversy among millions of moviegoers, with British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, turned the world on its stunned ear with a barrage of tongue-in-cheek, foot-in-mouth verbal assaults against a host of people and institutions.

Among a long list of outrageous acts and astounding claims about any number of things came one that women's brains are smaller than men's, and thus inferior in every meaningful way.

Is it possible ... ?

"MRI research that looked at volumetric analysis of the brain determined that men's brains are larger than women's generally, that there are statistical differences in size between them," said Steven J. Barrer, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at Abington Memorial Hospital, "but that size in itself has nothing to do with intelligence."

That there are statistical differences in size could favor women's brains actually in some ways, he continued, such as the fact that women are more nurturing than men because of chemical differences in their brains.

"Also, women have more fibers that connect the left and right sides of the brain, so their brains are more in balance than men's, and women are able to multi-task more effectively than men," explained Barrer, "making them better managers. And since women work more from the left side of their brain, they take in more of their environment than men, who are much more narrowly focused."

From their dominant left side, women are more verbal than men and take a person's feelings more into account, he added; from their dominant right side, men are more spatial and navigational.

One part of men's brains that is larger than that of women's is the cerebellum, he continued, which has to do with more of the nonhuman aspects of behavior, such as coordination (in general, of course, since women gymnasts are certainly well-coordinated). Also, men's larger brains hold twice the sex drive of women's smaller brains -- in proportion with their generally smaller bodies, noted the doctor. "At this stage of the game, it's as much psychiatry as it is biochemistry as to just what all of the statistics mean."

Israeli researcher Ruben C. Gur, Ph.D., professor in the department of psychiatry, neurology and radiology/director of the Brain Behavior Center at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, asked rhetorically: "If brain size is the determining factor in intelligence, why, then, don't elephants rule the world?"

His answer? Brain size isn't the sole key to intelligence; it's not everything, even though that was and is a common perception.

"Despite having brains that are larger than women's by about 8 percent and 11 percent by weight, men and women have the same volume of gray matter or brain cells -- the power station -- and their IQs are about the same," he acknowledged.

With regard to brain size as a measure of smarts, there are obvious exceptions, such as the remarkable genius of Albert Einstein, who, according to the literature Gur had read, had a larger-than-average brain.

Exceptions to the rule exist, noted Gur, so there are a lot of very smart people with small brains and a lot of dumb people with large brains. However, scientific evidence reveals, he confirmed, that a very small correlation exists between a larger brain and higher IQ.

"Men have a greater volume of brain than women, proportional with their larger bodies (on average 13 percent taller than women), but the only real differences are that men have more of the cerebrospinal fluid in which the brain floats, and more of the white matter or fibers that connect distant regions of the brain.

"Actually, in men there is more of a fat called myelin -- which serves to insulate electrical transmissions -- than fluid," he stated.

The findings discussed by Gur were presented in the paper, "Sex Differences in Brain Gray and White Matter in Healthy Young Adults," written with his wife, Raquel E. Gur, M.D., Ph.D., the Karl and Lisa Rickels Professor and vice chair for research development in the department of psychiatry, neurology and radiology, as well as director of the neuropsychiatry section at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and an equally world-class Israeli researcher into the complexities of the human brain.

(Their paper, which outlined the aforementioned three main cranial areas, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 1999. He was the paper's primary author, she the senior author.)

Meanwhile, George C. Newman, M.D., Ph.D., and chair of the neurosensory sciences department at Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, offered details of research in the arena.

'No Correlation, as a Rule'
"In 1861, German scientist Paul Broca examined 432 human brains and found that the brains of males had an average weight of 1,325 grams, while the brains of females had an average weight of 1,144 grams, and a 1992 study of 6,325 Army personnel found that men's brains had an average volume of 1,442 cm3, while the women averaged 1,331 cm3.

"Perhaps the fact that there is greater cell density in women's prefrontal lobes compensates for the smaller brain size. Despite these differences, men and women perform equally at most tasks," stated Newman, "and there is absolutely no correlation as a rule between brain size and IQ."

He cited a 2005 study published in the British Journal of Psychology that concluded there are twice as many men with an above average IQ of 125 than there are women, and also twice as many men with a below average IQ of 60, but that average IQs of men and women are virtually identical.

"The philosopher John Stuart Mill argued there were no differences between men and women, whereas the scientist Charles Darwin in his Descent of Man argued that women were, by their nature, inferior with respect to mental ability," said Newman.

Worth noting, he continued, is that a woman's brain changes with pregnancy: "After a woman becomes pregnant, she becomes more intelligent, becomes more aware, and her perceptions and judgments increase in accuracy -- something that persists until menopause."

"Through it all, there are really more similarities in function between the brains of men and women than there are differences, which are as much cultural as biological. One similarity is that in romantic love, the same areas of the brains of men and women are used. Also, the organs of the nervous system are the same size in men and women in general," he said, "although girls' brains reach their adult size a year or two before boys' do."


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