You think your partner has stopped “hearing” you? This is why.

Ever wondered why you think you are doing the lion’s share of the listening in a relationship? It may not be his fault (so to speak). It may have more to do with sex differences in the way the brain is wired.

We know, the old “brain differences between the genders” mightn’t offer any comfort when you’ve tried to bring up – for the fifth time – the whole dirty gym bag in the hallway thing (it’s not going to unpack and clean itself). But it might give you something to think about so you can delay a verbal explosion.

Here goes:

When it comes to problem solving and cooperation, men and women have no “inter-brain cohesion”, new research has found.

In that, we don’t cooperate in the same way. At all.

All those ‘you’re not even listening’, ‘you don’t understand me’, ‘you just don’t get it’ comments? They’re now validated. Why? Because, when it comes to problems solving and cooperation, the brains of men and women are working in an awfully different manner.

The research comes out of the University of Stanford and tested the brain activity of pairs of people – women and women, men and men, and men and women – who were trying to solve a problem. Men and women were found to have zero ‘inter-brain cohesion’, which means while women were using their right temporal cortex, men were stuck somewhere in their right inferior prefrontal region. READ: Emotional and visual intelligence versus logic and problem-solving.


The study looked to 222 participants who sat in front of a computer, across the table from their partner. Pairs could see each other, but were instructed not to talk. The participants were asked to press a button when the colour of a circle on the computer screen changed colour. The goal was to press the button simultaneously, or as close together as possible. Each pair had 40 attempts to get it right.

The whole time researchers were monitoring the participant’s brain activity using near-infrared spectorscopy probes (attached to their heads). This is unusual for testing brain patterns – as usually it’s done using an MRI, lying down. This study looked at exactly how the brain works when two people are actively trying to solve a problem.

Twenty-Somethings on making marriage last. Post continues below video.

In pairs of the same gender, both participants used their brain in a similar manner to solve the problem – they showed high inter-brain cohesion which resulted in enhanced performance.

“Within same-sex pairs, increased coherence was correlated with better performance on the cooperation task,” lead author Joseph Baker, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, said in a press release. “However, the location of coherence differed between male-male and female-female pairs.”

Male and female pairs, however, showed a different story. they showed no inter-brain cohesion but (reassuringly) this didn’t mean they failed at the cooperation task.

Male and female couples actually scored the same as male-male couples on performance, they just used a completely different route to getting there.

“It’s not that either males or females are better at cooperating or can’t cooperate with each other,” the study’s senior author, Allan Reiss, MD, said in a press release. “Rather, there’s just a difference in how they’re cooperating.”



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