Women’s Intuition

shutterstock_135457706 - 2This article begins a series on the female brain.  Fortunately there is a ton of research out there to rely on instead of just offering musings from my own experience.  I don’t know how much experience is required for a man to feel competent on his own to comment on the female brain, but I assure you I have not reached it.  Instead I will be relying on the work of Dr. Daniel Amen and others who have compiled the world’s largest databases of SPECT brain images.  (80,000 images and growing!)

Of course, simply observing correlations between brain structure and observed differences in the person does not mean that the brain creates that person.  Many scientists today don’t understand the basic principle from any 100 level science course, “Correlation does not equal causation.”  This leads to grave errors in their philosophy, most notably using this science to try to prove atheism.  Well, correlation does not equal causation, but observing these differences and their correlations can help us to appreciate with even deeper wonder and awe the beauty with which God created us.  Studying the female brain in this way might even give us men a little help in understanding the greatest mystery in the created universe.

From the Catholic side of things, Pope John Paul II referred many times to what he called the, “feminine genius.”  Theology students and chastity speakers like to throw this term around a lot, and there certainly are very beautiful and moving passages from church documents as well as privately written books describing what the feminine genius actually is.  Here though I would like to move away from theology and philosophy and focus on the cold, hard data.  The 80,000 brains and what we can learn from indisputable evidence of the differences between men and women.

While this series will be all about the differences between the male and female brain, this is not to say that either one is better or smarter.  Men and women can still perform the same functions, on a test of intelligence for example or to perform a function like getting from point A to point B, but they do so by using different parts of the brain.

There are five main functions of the female brain that are overall better developed than man’s because of structural differences.  These functions are intuition, empathy, collaboration, self-control, and a healthy dose of anxiety.  I will focus on each one of these functions in individual posts.

Women are more intuitive.  Whether or not this is a good thing I will comment on later, but for now we have to first understand the difference between gray and white brain cells (gray matter vs. white matter).  Gray matter is brain that is composed mostly of cell bodies, while white matter is brain with long tracks for communication connecting distant cells together.  (The white gets its color from the “myelin” covering that helps insulate the communication parts like the covering on an electric wire).  This is important because there is a significant difference between the proportion of gray matter to white matter in the brains of men and women.  In areas of knowledge, women have much more white matter (even women’s cells communicate more!)  Actually, women have 10 times more white matter in areas of knowledge.

This means that men and women have two different ways of arriving at conclusions.  With more gray matter, men’s brain cells are more localized in certain areas, and the cells don’t communicate as much with other cells.  Women’s “thinking” brain cells are located further apart, with more communication between them.  This means that the female brain benefits from a wider range of information and forms relationships between different types of information.

Women tend to use broader connections in the brain to arrive at conclusions.  Women especially gather more data from the right side of the brain, home to more emotional and spiritual processing, than men do.  This actually allows women to pick up on more cues about the outside world and connect them.

In addition to different areas of the brain, there are large expanses of neurons in the gut.  Yes, I said neurons in the gut.  Women’s brains are larger in areas that track and process these “gut neurons,” which explains how there really is something to a “gut feeling.”

Women draw conclusions from many areas of experience, sometimes without even knowing how or why, which is why their intuition is better developed.  For many people in our society, intuition is suspect as it is in some ways, unscientific.

Einstein, however, had a different perspective on things.  He said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

I think John Paul II would agree.  Intuition, in combination with reason, gives women a tremendous strength.  They can pick up more on non-verbal cues and are better than men at recognizing facial differences.  Sociologists have repeatedly found that women are faster and more accurate at identifying emotions.  These findings correlate well with John Paul II’s observation that women have an inherent ability to love their infants more naturally, even while in the womb.  Having the ability to pick up on nonverbal sources of information is certainly necessary to understand how pre-verbal babies might feel and therefore attend appropriately to their needs.

This is only one of many ways that intuition gives women an advantage over men.  Among other things, intuition opens women up to engage their function of empathy, the feminine brain strength I will cover in the next article.


Image credit: shutterstock.com

Dr. Greg Bottaro


Dr. Greg Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing in Manhattan serving the greater New York Metropolitan area and many others through web conferencing. He received his Psy.D. (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school in Arlington, VA that integrates Catholic philosophy and theology with sound, empirically validated psychology. Before finishing his degree, Dr. Bottaro discerned a religious vocation with the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs). He lived almost four years in the Bronx, serving the poor in the tradition of St. Francis. These years were formative for him emotionally, spiritually, and professionally as he tested his vocation and ultimately felt the prompting of God’s will to pursue family life. Six years after leaving NYC as a friar Dr. Bottaro returned as a psychologist. His aim is fundamentally the same – to serve. Instead of serving those suffering material poverty, He now serves those with psychological needs. He blogs regularly at CatholicPsych.com.

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  • S

    Great idea for a series of articles. Thanks also for focusing on the scientific end of things.

  • JMC

    Neurons in the gut…is that referring to the solar plexus, or the actual gut?

  • drgreg

    It is the actual gut. Check out this article – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    Men are ruled by brain and reason . Women are ruled by heart and will.

  • lightedlamp97

    We have forgotten the gift. I really appreciate that line! In marriage there is to be this perfect synergy between man, the servant, and woman, the gift. I quit trying to make my husband understand me years ago. I always pray to Mary, our Mother, to enlighten him. She has yet to let me down. Thanks for putting into words what intuition is to the female brain. It explains why my husband responds better to my desires when I express them in a 3 word sentences. Woman are smarter isn’t that what you just said:)

  • A. Sheppard

    Very interesting article. I am reminded that Mary is the Seat of Wisdom. She was also overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (gift of), making her the perfect cooperator with the Holy Spirit to conceive Christ into her womb. In some parts of scripture the Hebrew word for ‘womb’ is Mercy! I could go on and on! For example, Solomon’s first test of the gift of Wisdom was between two concubines and an infant. The genuine mother had the deepest empathy for the life of the child, therefore she died to herself in order to spare the life of the infant whom she loved with a mother’s love. I eagerly await more! Thank You

  • jenny

    excellent article !!!

  • quartz55

    Why do men have to try and explain everything? Women know about intuition, please do not much it up with words.

  • BillinJax

    Just as I thought….
    The dictionary tells me men are Indulgers in life while women are Involvers of life.

    Men take unrestrained pleasure (in life): gratify
    yield to the desire of : humor
    Women surround (it) as with a wrapping : envelop
    Also were required as a necessary accompaniment : entail

    After 80 years of living it and 60 years married to the girl of my dreams this makes perfect sense to me.

  • 7man

    “There are five main functions of the female brain that are overall better developed
    than man’s because of structural differences. These functions are intuition,
    empathy, collaboration, self-control, and a healthy dose of anxiety.

    7man’s interpretation: feelings, pandering, herd-behavior, irrationality and insecurity.

    It seems everything we (secular, Catholic and Christian) are told to believe is
    a lie, and that the true virtues and strengths of women are profoundly different
    than the misguided propaganda (lies) that we are conditioned to believe. (Lies are
    often comprised of 90% truth and 10% falsehood, constructed to lead to erroneous conclusions.)

    A woman is not merely her brain. She has a body and her highest purpose is to nurture life. Therefore her body is receptive and fertile and her innate skills are designed by God to become pregnant, sustain a child in her womb, give birth and raise children.

    A man will work to provide for his wife and his children. She need not compete with him and be acclaimed for traits that are neutral and different than his. A husband should gaze into her eyes with resolution and caring while cupping her face with a firm gentle touch. She will melt, feel safe and her insecurities and troubles will fade. (Or he can spend a lifetime talking about the 5 things Dr. Greg mentions and he will accomplish much less than he could in about 20 seconds of what will really touch her heart.)

    Why is it that in our modern world we must manufacture things that women are ‘overall better” at while we are silent about matters of marriage and family?

    A woman’s brain is different, and I treasure that. The Catholic Church does have the fullness of truth, but numerous Catholics have embraced too many secular explanations of relationship research and science that are contrary to what JPII advocated in TOB.

  • BillinJax

    I say God bless you women with faith and conviction.

    You women who have given your life to your husbands and children, gone through childbirth, cooked and cleaned, dried the tears and bound our wounds all the while praying to God to guide and protect us have the natural gift of eternal love and
    survival for those around you. Men may be physically stronger but we tend to be
    short sighted looking only at what is affecting us at the moment and what to do
    about it. We are the first to mope about when things go wrong instead of
    accepting life as it comes to us knowing nothing good comes with out some pain
    or discomfort. It is in the nature God gave you to be the heart and soul of what we call humanity. Neither Man nor earth was complete until woman came upon the scene and made life fruitful and abundant. Don’t let anyone try to deny this truth.

    And the woman God made especially for Himself, our Mother Mary Queen of heaven, also naturally with her heart of eternal love wants to gather all of Gods children under her maternal care and lead them through Christ to the Father. Like you women she has taken it as her duty and commitment as His bride to care for the children of God. Bless you!!

  • CDville

    The New York Times ran an article in late August about a psychiatrist who is successfully (in some patients, not all) treating depression with probiotics!