If you ever find yourself justifying your boyfriend’s detached response to your grievances or shrug off his forgetfulness by thinking, “He’s just a man,” consider this: A new study published in NeuroImage says the hippocampus—the part of the brain that consolidates recent memories and helps connect emotions to the senses—is almost the same size among men and women. In other words, men are not physiologically incapable of verbalizing their feelings and remembering your anniversary.
This new research challenges the common notion that women’s hippocampi are considerably larger, making them innately more emotionally expressive and possess greater verbal memory. "Many people believe there is such a thing as a 'male brain' and a 'female brain,'" says Lise Eliot, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, who led the study. "But when you look beyond the popularized studies—at collections of all the data—you often find that the differences are minimal."
To reach this conclusion, Eliot and her team conducted a meta-analysis—a statistical method that involves collecting results from multiple independent studies. For this particular study, 76 published papers with brain data on more than 6,000 healthy people were examined. "Sex differences in the brain are irresistible to those looking to explain stereotypic differences between men and women," adds Eliot. "But as we explore multiple datasets and are able to coalesce very large samples of males and females, we find these differences often disappear or are trivial."
So what gives with male behavior? Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology published a study in BMC Psychology substantiating the popular belief that men tend to have more slippery minds—but it’s still very unclear why. As for the comparable lack of emotional openness, now that we know it’s not nature, it must be nurture. Clinical psychologist Barbara Markway, PhD, posits on Psychology Today that societal expectations might have something to do with it: “Many [men] are trapped in the confines of a socialization process that tells them it’s unmanly to cry, to hurt or to express the myriad other emotions we all experience...”
Regardless of the reason, more men (if they aren’t already one of the anomalies who are fountains of feelings) should start opening up since it comes with a few unexpected benefits, like getting over a breakup more quickly. On top of that, it makes the ladies and significant others happier. A win-win, I say.