Thursday, March 09, 2000

Do guys put extra neurons to good use?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Just for the record, most women never pretended that our brains are like a man's. In fact, we know they are not. And we knew that long before a University of Cincinnati scientist made it official.

        Some women would argue that our brains are superior because we don't personally know any woman who would not have known that Monica Lewinsky would keep the dress and would blab. And, by the way, we were not shocked that she was the sort of girl who would wear a thong.

        We are willing to concede that the brain is not the “controlling legal authority” in this matter. But it still leaves us feeling slightly smug.

Clotheshorse Barbie
        Most of us have noticed that we're different from the men we know. Physically, of course, but emotionally and mentally. We have different motivations.

        Comedian Elayne Boozler, discussing the debate over women in combat, noted: “We have women in the military, but they don't put us on the front lines. They don't know if we can fight.” She rolls her eyes. “All the general has to do is walk over to the women and say, "You see the enemy over there? They say you look fat in these uniforms.'”

        I'll never believe this is entirely cultural. I think most little girls are born with warring appetites for haute couture and haute cuisine. (This is French for little tiny dresses and great, big hips.) How else does one explain Clotheshorse Barbie? Some of the most liberated women I know have tried to shove chubby dolls in earth shoes at their daughters. Or tool kits or race cars. To no avail.

        Men and women think different things are funny. For instance, I will bet my free Lean Cuisine coupons that women are not the big market for the digitally remastered release of the Three Stooges' “comedy masterpieces.”

        Men's Health magazine last year asked its readers, “Which Stooge Are You?” Seriously. Psychologists discussed whether men are all variations of Larry, Moe and Curly. “Kennedy and Nixon were Moes,” the article concluded. “Carter was a Larry. If you crammed all the Fortune-100 CEOs into one Bennigan's, you'd have Moe Central with a wet bar.”

        I have no idea what they are talking about.

Captain Underpants
        The brain cells devoted to Larry, Moe and Curly and to Monday Night Football went to the men in my family. These are also the brain cells responsible for the baffling (to me) literary success of The Adventures of Captain Underpants.

        My theory is that these cells are the extra ones, the ones women don't have and don't want.

        Dr. Gabrielle M. de Courten-Myers, a University of Cincinnati researcher, worked with scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland to count neurons in the cerebral cortex. She announced that men average 299,052 neurons per square millimeter, compared with an average of 264,892 for women.

        “It explains why males have better spatial orientation.” I guess it also explains why I drove around Indianapolis twice the last time I went to Chicago. It might also explain why men always hog the armrests on airplanes and in movie theaters. They have oriented themselves all over the available space.

        Dr. de Courten-Myers said having more neurons may help men solve problems. She theorized that males evolved with more neurons — brain cells — because they were wanderers. “They needed to find their way back.” To their stone-age Barcaloungers at dinner time.

        Presenting her findings this month during a workshop on gender differences in the brain, the researcher was careful to say that all these extra brain cells do not make men any smarter than women. They may just be able to do some things better than women, such as following a map.

        Or killing bugs. Or taking out the garbage. Or changing tires.

        This is just a theory so far, but I am well into the test phase.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.