What Really Makes Men Tick

If your guy’s behavior leaves you frustrated or confused, it’s likely because his brain is hard-wired to react differently than yours would. Learn more about how his brain chemistry works here.

By Chelsea Kaplan

ometimes, it seems like guys just don’t get it. Is it so much to ask for our men to listen and empathize to our gripes instead of offering advice on how to “fix” them (that is, unless said problem is a flat tire), or to “ooh and aah” just a little bit over a new baby in the family? While it may seem like your guy is clueless when it comes to knowing how to truly help and even connect with you, the truth is that he physically can’t help but react the way he does. “Simply put: his brain is wired in a very specific ‘male’ way, which is entirely different from the way in which yours is,” says Louann Brizendine, M.D., a Bay Area psychiatrist, professor and author of The Male Brain. For more insight into what actually accounts for his most frustratingly “guy” behaviors, we asked Dr. Brizendine to shed a more scientific light onto what truly makes men tick.

Why is he always so intent on “fixing” my problems? Why can’t he just listen and empathize?

Even though we are more alike than different (after all, we are the same species!), Dr. Brizendine explains that, chemically, the female and male brains approach emotional situations differently, which most often results in divergent approaches to handling emotional situations. “Human brains have two different systems for dealing with
This accounts for why women handle emotional situations as they do.
the emotions of another person: the mirror neuron system, which makes up our emotional or ‘feeling’ empathy system, and the TPJ (temporal parietal junction) system, which makes up our cognitive or ‘thinking’ empathy system,” Dr. Brizendine explains, adding that females use the emotional empathy system more often: “This accounts for why women handle emotional situations as they do; when a woman sees a sad expression on another’s face, her brain strongly triggers the mirror neuron system to ‘feel’ the same feeling as the other person is feeling, which leads her to empathize [with him/her].”

Males in the same situation, however, only briefly use the mirror neuron system as their brains quickly switch to the TPJ system, which activates their brains to try to “think” of how to “fix” the problem as opposed to empathizing, which is what women tend to do. “This often leaves women feeling stunned when he launches into saying, ‘Honey, you know what you should do…’ when all she wants him to do is listen to how she is feeling and say to her, ‘Honey, I know how you feel,’” Dr. Brizendine says.

Why is he so “physical?” I wish he’d come to the farmer’s market with me one Saturday, but all he wants to do is play football with his buddies.

Spend an hour at the playground on a Saturday and you’ll have all the proof you need that males and females are just wired differently when it comes to physical activity. “From the time boys are young, they exhibit much more rough-and-tumble play than little girls do,” Dr. Brizendine explains. Scientists believe this is because boys’ brains and bodies are marinated in testosterone while they’re in utero and have more of a hormone called MIF (mullerian inhibitory factor), which sends messages to the brain requiring that they be more physically active. When males reach puberty and adulthood, they have 10 times more testosterone than females do, which activates the need to move their muscles in a way that females do not experience, Dr. Brizendine says. Now that you know this, ask your girlfriend to go shopping for fresh produce with you and let your guy and his buddies bond over a game of pick-up basketball. Just think: an early morning release of that pent-up energy will make him that much more willing (and able) to go see that new Reese Witherspoon movie you’ve been dying to see this evening!

Why is he so competitive? It’s like he always is obsessed with winning and being number one!

Though women certainly compete with each other over a multitude of things, guys have a competitive urge that generally supercedes that of most ladies. The competitive
Guys have a competitive urge that generally supercedes that of most ladies.
urge in both males and females is egged on by testosterone, Dr. Brizendine says, but as males have 10 times more testosterone than females do, on average, males are much more driven to be intensely — especially physically — competitive. So before you roll your eyes and wonder why your guy is so angry over his alma mater’s recent loss in the NCAA finals, remember that his competitive nature is simply a natural, biological component of being male — and your ability to let it roll off your back is a hallmark of your femininity.

Why is he always so focused on sex, sex, sex?

Chalk this one up to testosterone, the “male” hormone that advises the brain, too. “In utero, the male fetal brain ‘marinates’ in testosterone, which makes his brain’s area for sexual pursuit grow to be two and a half times larger than in a female brain,” Dr. Brizendine says. “And then, the ‘fuel’ that drives this area in the brain — testosterone — increases in a male by 250 percent between ages 9 and 15.” So by the time he’s a teenager, a male’s visual circuits — all of which are located in his brain — start focusing on female body parts and fantasizing about how to get a girl to have sex with him. (And, you may have noticed, this act of “focusing” doesn’t exactly stop after high school!)

Why is he not as in love with our new baby niece as I am?

Females may start fantasizing about having babies while they’re little girls playing with and taking care of dolls, but Dr. Brizendine says that male brains take much longer to become baby-ready in the same way. “A male starts to become more and more interested in the idea of a baby once his partner becomes pregnant, and much of this interest awakening [in him] is due to scientific triggers,” she explains. Why must having a pregnant mate be one of the only things that can produce this reaction in men? Again, it’s all centered around hormones and brain science, Dr. Brizendine explains: “The hormones from his partner’s sweat glands waft over into his nose, which stimulates his brain to make less testosterone and more prolactin, a hormone that functions to form the ‘daddy brain’ in a male.” So if you’re worried that he may never be ready to be a father, rest assured that once the wheels are in motion, he’s likely to get excited once he gets a whiff of you in all of your pregnant glory.

For the other side of the story, read What Really Makes Women Tick.

When DC-based journalist Chelsea Kaplan isn’t helping you solve your relationship problems, she’s making jewelry. Check it out at
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