Why Women Are Better Decision Makers: The Brain Science
Women’s absence from decision-making positions has deprived the country of a necessary perspective. – Madeleine Kunin, former Vermont Governor
It has always been my experience that, when making decisions, women are often more considerate and judicious. They make decisions that better take into account the needs and viewpoints of others so that they seem to be more balanced.
Consequently, the findings from a March 2013 McMaster University survey of 600 corporate leaders were not surprising to me. This survey discovered that women who are board directors use more cooperative decision-making and give more consideration to the rights of others. Women are also more likely to call upon collaboration and consensus building when making decisions.
The researchers believe that this is a primary reason why the companies these women work for show higher levels of performance compared to organizations that do not have women in decision-making positions. They concluded that “having women on the board is no longer just the right thing, but also the smart thing to do. Companies with few female directors may actually be shortchanging their investors.”
This goes right along with research published in the June 2011 in the Harvard Business Review under the title "What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women." In this experimental study, teams were given a number of tasks involving brainstorming, decision-making and problem solving. Teams were given collective intelligence scores based on their performance. Can you guess which teams did better?
If you guessed that it was the teams that had higher individual IQ scores, you would be wrong. It was the teams that had a higher "group IQ" that prevailed, and these were the teams with more women.
The Brain Basis
As a brain specialist, I always try to find the brain-based reason behind behavior whenever I can. I believe that there are three features of the female brain that may account for better decision-making.
1. Mirror Neurons: One key strength of the female brain is empathy — the ability to put oneself in another's position and feel what they feel. Research demonstrates that women have stronger empathic tendencies than males. The basis of the empathic response lies in brain structures known as mirror neurons, which are activated when we identify with someone else. Research published in the journal Neuroscience in 2009 reported that females had significantly more gray matter in the regions of the brain's mirror neuron systems compared to males.
2. Frontal Lobes: Another major seat of empathic response is in the frontal lobes. Damage to this part of the brain impairs empathy. The frontal lobes are also the part of the brain concerned with planning, decision-making and impulse control. It's the frontal lobes that put the brakes on rash behavior. In females the frontal lobes are larger, which puts more brain power behind their decision-making process.
3. Connectivity: Females have greater connectivity across different parts of their brains, whereas the male brain tends to be more localized in its functioning. Compared to men, women tend to call on many different areas of knowledge when making decisions.
Because of their brain structure, men may be more focused on problem solving, with less concern for the emotional agreement in a group. They may be less aware of one another and more isolated within themselves. Women tend to be more sensitive to the emotional atmosphere and more inclusive. And all of this may serve to make them excellent leaders and decision makers.
Decision-making is just one area in which women excel. I discuss many other features of a woman's brain that prepare her for a leadership role in my latest book, "Unleash the Power of the Female Brain." I also examine ways to foster the expression of these positive qualities, and minimize the effect of conditions that may hold a woman back.
Have you found that organizations with women in leadership roles make better decisions? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.
In brain health,
Daniel G. Amen, MD
Dr. Amen is a psychiatrist and Founder of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, San Francisco, Bellevue, WA, DC, Atlanta and New York. Amen Clinics have the world's largest database of brain scans relating to behavior. Dr. Amen is also the host of 7 popular shows about the brain, and he is the author of 55 professional articles, and over 30 books, including Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Magnificent Mind At Any Age, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, and Use Your Brain to Change Your Age. In February 2013, Crown published Dr. Amen's new book, Unleash the Power of the Female Brain.
Join Daniel G. Amen M.D. on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for daily updates on how to lead a brain healthy life. For more information on the Amen Clinics, click here: www.amenclinics.com. To learn more about how to unleash the power of your female brain, go here: www.unleashthefemalebrain.com.
McMaster University. “Women make better decisions than men, study suggests.” ScienceDaily, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
Woolley, Anita, Malone, Thomas, and Berinato, Scott. Defending your research: What makes a team smarter? More women. Harvard Business Review. 2011, June 1.
Cheng, Y, Chou, H, Decety, J, Chen, Y, Hung, D, et al. Sex Differences In The Neuroanatomy Of Human Mirror-Neuron System: A Voxel-Based Morphometric Investigation. Neuroscience 158 (2009) 713-720