To state the obvious: men and women have different anatomical endowments. Some people downplay these differences, others emphasize them, and a lot of us obsess over them, despite the fact that we have absolutely no background in biology. But for neuroscientists, who are more interested in studying the sex-specific charms of the brain than those of the body, the allure wears off fast. Trying to use the brain to unravel the mystery of the sexes is a sure way to lose grants, alienate potential dates, and wear out your MRI machine.
It’s not that male and female brains don’t have differences—they clearly do. However, determining the significance of these differences is another matter entirely. In fact, it’s a challenge that’s puzzled researchers, taken down a Harvard president, and landed countless neuroscientists on the living-room couch.
In this chapter, you’ll see what all the fuss is about as you hunt for sexual differences in the brain. What you’ll learn is compelling, controversial, and often inconclusive—but it just might give you a new perspective on the person you’ve sworn to spend your life with. Just as fascinating as the question of what makes us so different is the puzzle of what keeps us together (at least long enough to make promises, babies, and mortgage payments). In the second half of this chapter, you’ll try to answer this question by considering what happens to the brain when it falls in love.
In order to understand ...