He Sees Dollars, She Sees Sense: The Brain and Money

by Caroline Leaf

Before I launch into this blog, I want to remind you that a difference between a man and a woman is not a value judgement; it does not expose weakness between males and females, rather it celebrates uniqueness.

So now let me tell you about a great structure that we (males and females both!) have in the brain called the insula. The insula helps translate physical sensations and thoughts in our subconscious mind into conscious thoughts with attached emotions. So working with the rest of the brain, the insula helps us anticipate what something will feel like before it happens, like the proverbial “gut-feel” or “6th-sense”.

The insula is larger in the female, which makes ladies more sensitive to existing and anticipated situations. A woman will quickly, for example, draw on past memories of financial situations (or any situation for that matter!) and bring them into the present scenario, which almost collapses time, making it more difficult for her to take risks. The male insula, on the other hand, is more geared to strategically reading the environment and actions, making it easier for him to take risks. These are complementary ways of thinking things through, so neither males or females alone will have the full answer; together we are exponentially better! A woman predominately provides the emotional colour and details, while a man predominantly provides the strategy and action.

Another area of the brain called the Anterior Central Gyrus (ACG) enables men and women to shift between thoughts, weigh up options and make predictions. The ACG is bigger in a female, which enables her to integrate and consider many scenarios; this is assuming she is not harboring toxic thoughts, in which case she will get “stuck” in an event or thought pattern. Men’s ACGs are smaller and operate in a more focused manner, getting “bottom-line-big-picture” information quickly. If a man is operating from toxic thoughts, he will not weigh up options sufficiently and will act too quickly. Thus, the smaller ACG helps men see reason and logic quicker, and the larger ACG in women helps them see detail and emotional nuance quicker–both are important in any decision making and in life!

So when we combine these two opposite, but nevertheless equal, types of thought and apply it to financial investment–whether it is between husband and wife or business colleagues–the best investment can be achieved.

This last week has been a fascinating mix: a TV taping with James and Betty Robison on the male and female approaches to finances; Praise the Lord’s doctors’ night with Matt and Laurie Crouch; a doctor’s seminar for TBN; a taping about Toxic thinking with Leo Shreven from All Power Seminars; training and filming teachers in my “Switch on your Brain Classroom”…whew, now I think it’s time to breath!

However, what struck me when I was considering these interviews and seminars was how experts are teaming up to speak about current global issues like finances, education, and our mental and physical health and providing information on how to manage these integral parts of our lives. In this process I, once again, have had the incredible opportunity to work with some amazingly talented and extraordinary individuals and, in doing so, was challenged to provide a neuroscientific perspective.

I really felt impressed to share a little of this information over the next several blogs because I believe it will help you as much as it has helped me. I am going to start in this blog sharing a little on males, females and finances, which is definitely a relevant discussion considering the global financial crisis.

Lets first look at the male brain circuitry. When it comes to decision-making and money, the male brain is geared towards considering the context and working towards the end result. The type of question males generally ask is: “Which option will work and which one won’t?” This leads men to, in general, be more comfortable taking big risks, whereas a woman might feel more uncomfortable with such a risk. Men see the big picture and the strategy that will get them there quickly in an almost compartmentalized way.

Women’s brain circuitry, on the other hand, is better at making decisions regardless of the context, and she will prioritize her personal preferences. The most important question that one should ask a woman in terms of a financial (or any) decision will be “Which option is most comfortable?” Women will, in general, opt for the safer, more familiar decision where she can see from the big picture to the detail, even when she has a surplus of money.

The reason for these differences has to do with the design of the male and female brains, which is based on complementary opposites and equal intelligence. For example, the male brain’s decision and processing strengths lie in the gray matter (the top part of the nerve cell), which a man has 6x more than a woman; this gray matter functions like numerous little supercomputers. The female brain’s strengths lie in the white matter (the tree-trunk like part of the nerve cell), which a woman has 10x more than a man, thus making a woman’s brain like the internet. This means gents tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing, leading to that focus of “which option will work best”; while women tend to be above average at integrating and assimilating information from the distributed gray matter regions in the brain, which enables them to see detailed permutations. This will make her want to build her “nest-egg” safely and to always have a back-up plan. The fact of the matter is that without supercomputers the internet cannot exist; without the internet even the greatest supercomputer cannot achieve it’s full potential!

When it comes to finances and related management and decision-making skills, we have to talk about the Insula and ACG—I will discuss these in my next blog, so keep watching!

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