I’ve stumbled on a series of research summaries lately related to some of the exciting brain research that MRI scans are making possible. Scans enable scientists to observe what parts of the brain are activated when someone is thinking about something, or experiencing a particular emotion.
So we’ve learned that typically, the brains of males and females are different. The female hippocampus is often larger than the male counterpart, but the hypothalamus is usually smaller, for instance. So the average woman really does pick up emotional nuances more accurately than the average male, and the male really is more aggressive and oriented to sex. Men are typically problem-solvers if the problem is in the car, the computer, the leaky faucet, or the company expenses. Women really will hear the baby crying more often than men who sleep through it.
The literature is also discovering typical differences between right- and left-handers, between children and adults, between individuals who are people-oriented and more analytical types. In some ways these discoveries can help us understand that people are different for much more subtle reasons than we may have appreciated up to now. It’s not just our culture or upbringing, our generation or our gender that sets us apart.
But all these discoveries are still, in some ways, dividing us into groups. This might be misleading because the research is describing average, not individual, differences. The research does not tell us about any particular individual in any of these groups who might be quite atypical, or even more like a typical member of the “other” group. Not every female is highly intuitive and inferior in spatial or mathematical abilities any more than every male is the opposite, for instance. So when we meet someone or even try to understand ourselves, the research about “average” people might be totally off the mark.
Perhaps even more importantly, the new brain research doesn’t necessarily help us understand that we are each absolutely unique. None of us is “typical” in the most important aspects of who we are.
What is most exciting about each person is that he or she isn’t like anybody else in the whole world.