Sex Differences In The Adult Human Brain: UK Biobank data

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

Male brains exhibit larger variance across all morphological measures. (Don’t tell Larry Summers! ;-)

Note, as far as I can tell the authors don’t normalize the SD by mean value for each gender to obtain the typical percentage fluctuation (a dimensionless quantity). The male brain is about 10% larger and each of the subregions is roughly that much bigger as well. If you divide the larger male SD by the larger male mean for each morphology the effect is much smaller than tabulated in the second figure below.

Sex Differences In The Adult Human Brain: Evidence From 5,216 UK Biobank Participants


Sex differences in human brain structure and function are of substantial scientific interest because of sex-differential susceptibility to psychiatric disorders and because of the potential to explain sex differences in psychological traits. Males are known to have larger brain volumes, though the patterns of differences across brain subregions have typically only been examined in small, inconsistent studies. In addition, despite common findings of greater male variability in traits like intelligence, personality, and physical performance, variance differences in the brain have received little attention. Here we report the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain to date (2,750 female and 2,466 male participants aged 44-77 years). Males had higher cortical and sub-cortical volumes, cortical surface areas, and white matter diffusion directionality; females had thicker cortices and higher white matter tract complexity. Considerable overlap between the distributions for males and females was common, and subregional differences were smaller after accounting for global differences. There was generally greater male variance across structural measures. The modestly higher male score on two cognitive tests was partly mediated via structural differences. Functional connectome organization showed stronger connectivity for males in unimodal sensorimotor cortices, and stronger connectivity for females in the default mode network. This large-scale characterisation of neurobiological sex differences provides a foundation for attempts to understand the causes of sex differences in brain structure and function, and their associated psychological and psychiatric consequences.



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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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