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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Problem-Solving Matters

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a study that finds the difference between men and women is grey and white, at least when it comes to their brains.


GELLERMAN: Just ahead: twelve years after the collapse of their fishing industry and the loss of 30,000 jobs, Newfoundlanders troll for tourists, instead of cod. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: On the heels of remarks by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers that men may have innate qualities that make them better at math and science than women, there's new research on that touchy subject.

According to a study conducted by the University of California at Irvine and the University of New Mexico, men and women have an equal capacity to problem solve. They just use different parts of their brain to do it.

Researchers took detailed MRI images of 48 participants' brains, then tested them with IQ questions. They then measured the parts of the brain used to determine the answers.

Turns out that when trying to discover a solution to a problem, men use approximately six and a half times more of the brain's gray matter than women, while women use white matter 10 times more than men.

Gray matter is, essentially, a hub for the brain's neuron cell bodies that produce information. White matter accounts for the nerve fibers that connect neurons together into a network for processing information.

Fields such as mathematics requires activity that occurs in the gray areas of the brain, while language skills require more networking within white areas. And even though both types of brains have different neurological pathways, they are able to come to the same conclusions.

So, while male and female brains are different, this study appears to show that, at least when it comes to problem-solving, separate can be equal.

That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.

GELLERMAN: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Bob Dylan "Cold Irons Bound" Time Out of Mind (Columbia) 1997]



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