Debunking brain myths: Does size matter?

When it comes to the brain, does size matter or does the saying “it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it” hold true?

Recent articles have noted that men have bigger brains than women, but does that make them smarter?

“No,” says Dr. Gordon Winocur, Baycrest senior scientist. “If brain size mattered, elephants would be geniuses.”

“It may well be that men’s brains are bigger but that is probably because we need more tissue to manage our larger muscle mass and greater size. It does not translate into the size of brain areas which are important for cognitive function. Certain parts of the brain may work differently, for example men are thought to be more spatial and women more verbal, but overall I doubt there’s much to differentiate.”

How you use it really does matter when it comes to the brain. We can help or hurt our brains depending on the lifestyle choices we make. There is abundant evidence that being active and participating in stimulating activities helps our brain retain its connections and benefits us as we age.

Studies on animals have indicated that those that are active and exposed to stimulation have more complicated neural networks and even grow more new brain cells. This is important because the new cells can take over for cells that have been injured or have died. The idea of “use it or lose it” is now grounded in growing biological evidence.

Scientists who have examined the brains of famous, brilliant people such as Albert Einstein have not found that there is a difference in the size of the brain. What has been suggested is that these exceptional people have certain areas of the brain which are more developed. For example, in Einstein’s brain, the area associated with mathematical skills was more dense and more complex, notes Dr. Winocur.

The brain is very intricate and size is less important than how you use it.

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