New research says that, although women’s brains are smaller, they do more with less.

A research team composed of scientists based in Madrid and Los Angeles reports that women’s brains work more efficiently than men’s even though their brains are smaller. The investigators published their work in the March–April 2013 issue of Intelligence.

Specifically, the researchers studied the relationship between hippocampal structural differences in 104 young people (45 men and 59 women), using 3D high-resolution MRI scans, and a large set of cognitive functions. These included inductive reasoning, keeping track of tasks, numerical attention, and spatial tasks, among others.

The hippocampus plays a key role in cognition, emotion, and memory. Men tend to exhibit larger hippocampi on the left side of the brain. Despite this fact, the scientists demonstrated that women, in a series of tests, performed better than men in inductive reasoning, keeping track of tasks, and in some areas of numerical reasoning. Men excelled at spatial intelligence.

The researchers concluded that their results support the concept that women think more efficiently than men.

“The efficiency hypothesis states that people showing better cognitive performance do so along with lower brain activation than people with worse cognitive scores,” they wrote. “At this [hippocampal] structural level, females might show greater efficiency requiring less neural material for achieving behavioral results on a par with males.”

The team contained scientists from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Fundación Reina Sofía, UCLA School of Medicine, and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

“We demonstrated that the sex variable is crucial for improving our understanding of the implementation of cognition in the human brain,” Roberto Colom, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, and team leader, told GEN. “It is critical to admit that not all brains work the same way, both for basic research and for developing clinical applications. The most probable next step would be the interactive analysis of genetic variation, brain properties, and cognitive performance differences.”

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