Flash Essay: Men and Women: Brain Differences

Just this morning my husband Ray said, “I don’t like Mozart. I feel as if he was just writing to get paid.” In contrast, he adores Mahler, who poured his emotions and life into his compositions while Mozart (in the same school with Beethoven) wrote some of his happiest music when he was in the depths of despair. You might wonder by what authority I speak. I am, after all, no music historian. However, I have been lucky enough to glean the above tidbits of information from the one hour pre-program talks presented at Disney Hall by bona fide music historians about the composers whose symphonies will be played that day by the LA Phil.

There are so many issues in the paragraph above, I hardly know where to start. One that stands out concerns my husband Ray, who spouts opinions willy-nilly, many of which are polar opposite from my own. Who doesn’t love Mozart, for God’s sake? Ray even admits he actually listens to Mozart’s music and enjoys it. His point is simply that Mozart, in his opinion, composed his music with an audience in mind, while composers Ray admires more appeared to compose only for themselves. He mentioned John Adams, for example, a modern-day composer who has one opera that most orchestras won’t touch because it’s so controversial. “Adams,” Ray said, “is someone who isn’t afraid of making people uncomfortable with his music and that discomfort can lead people to think. Mozart’s music is not in that same category.”

I get Ray’s point about making people uncomfortable with whatever one is doing creatively and hence pushing them into new ways of looking at life, but our conversation illustrates a profound difference between the way my husband approaches forming an opinion versus the method I use. Ray gathers only a certain amount of information, then comes up with an opinion; I wait until I have gathered as much information as possible then form my opinion. Is this a male/female difference or simply our difference?

I did a quick perusal online and came up with information on gender differences related to communication, as well as gender differences in reference to brain activity. Both have scientific studies that seek to undercover just how alike/different men and women are in their thinking and speech. The gist: women qualify their speech more, using words like “isn’t it?” or “don’t you think?” while men tend to make more pronouncements. Also, women’s brains have more white matter, which serves to connect the different parts of their brain while men have more gray matter, which is associated with information processing (http://gypsumgirl.hubpages.com/hub/Gender-Differences-In-Brain-Development). Perhaps what I’m seeing in my household is simply reflective of how different my brain works versus Ray’s. He is much more comfortable with “pronouncing” his opinions than I am, and he will intensely process information. I am more of a qualifier of my opinions and feel a need to “connect” the information I’m considering with as many other aspects as possible. On the other hand, when it comes to more intuitive emotional issues, I am extremely confident in my opinion and am more sure than Ray that I have picked up on the underlying nonverbal dynamic. Sure enough, that same brain research validates that women have more limbic area activity, which is connected to emotion.

So though I still don’t understand why Ray isn’t deeply touched by Mozart’s music, I do see more clearly how he and I think and express ourselves quite differently. Biology plays a bigger role than one might think. It’s a wonder men and women get along as well as they do. Of course, that might be explained by biology, as well, since research shows that men are thinking about sex much more often than women. And there you have it: the perfect motivator. An opinionated man will become more malleable in the presence of a woman he’s interested in, and that, my dear reader, can make all the difference.

Have you noted the differences in how men and women communicate? If so, please share in the Comments section.

4 Comments

  1. sampatron said,

    August 22, 2012 at 11:43 am

    You hit it right on, Len. I’m both astounded and amazed at how my parther so quickly and easily and confidently pronounces his opinions when he’s maybe heard only one small story. I, OTOH, agree that he could be right – but he just as easily could be wrong and how will I know until I get more info about whatever “it” is? He’s not interested in hearing the questions I have, he’s pronounced and that’s it. LOL

    • August 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm

      Yep. I see we are in the same situation! Not uncommon, apparently. Thanks for the comment, Sam.

  2. August 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    We’ve always had a good handle on the male / female thinking, haven’t we? You’ve laid this information out so nicely, anyone will understand. Wonderfully put–bull’s eye.


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