Perspective ARTICLE

Front. Integr. Neurosci., 20 September 2011 |

Male or female? Brains are intersex

  • Department of Psychology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel

The underlying assumption in popular and scientific publications on sex differences in the brain is that human brains can take one of two forms “male” or “female,” and that the differences between these two forms underlie differences between men and women in personality, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Documented sex differences in brain structure are typically taken to support this dimorphic view of the brain. However, neuroanatomical data reveal that sex interacts with other factors in utero and throughout life to determine the structure of the brain, and that because these interactions are complex, the result is a multi-morphic, rather than a dimorphic, brain. More specifically, here I argue that human brains are composed of an ever-changing heterogeneous mosaic of “male” and “female” brain characteristics (rather than being all “male” or all “female”) that cannot be aligned on a continuum between a “male brain” and a “female brain.” I further suggest that sex differences in the direction of change in the brain mosaic following specific environmental events lead to sex differences in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Keywords: male brain, female brain, sexual differentiation, gender differences, sex differences

Citation: Joel D (2011) Male or female? Brains are intersex. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 5:57. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2011.00057

Received: 14 July 2011; Paper pending published: 12 August 2011;
Accepted: 30 August 2011; Published online: 20 September 2011.

Edited by:

David C. Spray, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA

Reviewed by:

Dumitru A. Iacobas, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, USA
Anne M. Etgen, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA

Copyright: © 2011 Joel. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Daphna Joel, Department of Psychology, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat-Aviv, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel. e-mail: