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Are there ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains? Computers can see a distinction, but they rely strongly on differences in head size

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How useful are the well-known and hotly contested categories of “male brain” and “female brain”?

Among experts, nobody really questions that anatomical sex differences in the brain exist. But since the advent of brain science, the scientific community has been divided over how many differences there are, which ones have been definitively proven, how large or small they are, and what they actually mean.

And, over the past several years, a new debate has been brewing among experts. Do anatomical differences in the brain “add up” to two clearly recognisable (sex-specific) brain types? Or do they rather “mix up” and form idiosyncratic combinations or “mosaics”, independent of sex?

A mosaic of male and female features

The mosaic hypothesis was supported by the results of a ground-breaking study published in 2015 by Daphna Joel and her collaborators at Tel-Aviv University.

Using brain scans of more than 1,400 participants, Joel and company identified the 10 regions showing the largest differences in size between men and women. Next, they classified each region of each brain as “male-typical”, “female-typical” or “intermediate”.

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