Confidence and the Brain

Back in the 70’s, the only identified biological difference in cognitive ability between men and women was spatial visualization.  That is, in general, males are better at mentally manipulating  two-and three-dimensional figures. We also knew that the corpus callosum that connects the 2 halves of the brain is thicker in females than males meaning the halves are better able to communicate.

I was among those that believed that other all behavioral differences were largely a function how children were raised.  Boys were given guns and toy soldiers, girls were given play kitchens and dolls. Turns out- we were wrong.  There are differences in brain structures and how hormones affect brain functioning that do impact behavior.  Who knew?

Last month I was fortunate to hear Louann Brizendine speak about her latest book, The Male Brain.  Her first book was The Female Brain.  A neuropsychiatrist, her focus is on the impact of hormones on development and functioning of the brain.  During the book-signing afterwards, I had a chance to ask her a question related to an issue raised by so many professional women:  lack of self-confidence.   Why do men generally seem more confident than women.  Her answer:”That’s simple: Testosterone”.

Interesting.  Although testosterone has long been known to be associated with aggression, it’s not usually linked to self-confidence per se. Mind you- this is about self-perception, not about ability.  Anyone who’s done career coaching has seen plenty of women who have 8 of 10 qualifications for a given job opening but who don’t apply because of the missing two.  And, the same career coach has probably seen men with 2 of 10 qualifications for a given position who felt comfortably confident to submit their resumes.

What’s the cost?  Women may hold themselves back from acting on their ideas  which hurts not just them but the companies they work for.  The solution is not providing testosterone supplements for women.  Instead, for companies,  it is recognizing that some of the women who are not pushing their ideas may have plenty to offer and can be encouraged to accept opportunities that require them to move beyond their comfort zones.  With success comes an expanded sense of confidence.  For women professionals, it’s about doing a better job of self-promotion, flexing their confidence muscles (which may mean strengthening their risk-taking), and developing connections with people who can mentor or support them.  One specific technique I’m exploring is improvisation training and exercises.  But more about that at some later time.


3 Responses

  1. Jane C Woods
    Jane C Woods May 18, 2010 at 10:22 am |

    A really interesting post and so glad you said it is NOT about testerone supplements!
    Women are different, no problem. we just need the differences to be valued equally and understood. Many thanks, Jane


  2. Betty Ban
    Betty Ban May 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm |

    Dr. Gordon,

    Very good post, I am benefitting from it! Thank you for sharing.
    Women should be encouraged to be bold. Even though, our body biologically can’t generate the testosterone. It may help us to be aware of the fact when reality hits.


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