Men and women have such different perspectives that many pop psychologists say they must think about the future differently too. But if that's what you believe, new evidence from brain scans done on men and women will shake your faith. Last year, Harvard cognitive scientists Donna Addis and Daniel Schacter asked men and women to do a series of mental exercises while in an fMRI brain scanner. First they had to remember a recent event, and then they had to imagine a future event in great detail. The results of these "mental time travel" experiments were surprising.
It turned out that men and women use exactly the same parts of their brains to engage in the imaginative exercise required to imagine, a future scenario. Even more intriguing was that both genders relied heavily on the Hippocampus, a part of the brain that's usually associated with memory. Write the authors in a study published earlier this year in the journal Hippocampus:
Behavioral, lesion and neuroimaging evidence show striking commonalities between remembering past events and imagining future events. In a recent event-related fMRI study, we instructed participants to construct a past or future event in response to a cue. Once an event was in mind, participants made a button press, then generated details (elaboration) and rated them. The elaboration of past and future events recruited a common neural network.
Another cognitive scientist, Eleanor Maguire from the Wellcome Trust, has done related experiments and confirms that indeed both genders use the exact same parts of their brains to imagine future events. So if you and your opposite-sex pals have different opinions about what should happen tomorrow — or in twenty years — it's not a brain difference. It's just a matter of opinion.
Past and future events modulate hippocampal engagement [PDF]