There is an age-old rivalry on every university campus in the world — and it isn’t among fraternities and sororities. Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been divided into two competing factions, each believing it is better than the other, neither understanding exactly how the other thinks, and both working hard to demonstrate their worth. The longstanding adversaries? Science students and humanities students.
Fortunately, it seems that a breakthrough has come to benefit both sides. Scientists now believe there is a fundamental difference between science brains and humanities brains, which could be the reason you didn’t do well on your Chemistry AP test.
In a study uncreatively named “Brain Structures in the Sciences and Humanities,” science-minded Dr. Takeuchi and colleagues explained their significant findings in the neural discrepancies between different types of undergraduate students. Scanning a total of 491 brains (housed in the heads of 312 science students and 179 humanities students), the research team noticed that structures varied dependent on the subjects the students studied.
The study explains that science students tend to have more gray matter in the medial prefrontal cortex. Gray matter — the pinkish-gray stuff that looks most brain-like to non-neurologists — is composed of cell bodies, dendrites, and axon terminals. In essence, the gray matter is where processing occurs in the brain; it is responsible for such crucial tasks as muscle control, perception, and memory formation. The prefrontal cortex, which is one of the most overdeveloped structures in the human brain, is thought to handle various crucial cognitive processes, from decision-making to emotions.
Meanwhile, the research team found that humanities students displayed more white matter around the right hippocampus. White matter, which is aptly named for its pale color, is mostly made of tough neural fibers called myelinated axons, which speed the transmission of information from nerve to nerve. White matter is crucial during learning, as it allows strong, fast connections between pockets of gray matter. Experts believe that the hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory and spatial awareness.
The Possible Effects
Takeuchi et al briefly analyzed the possible reasons for these structural differences between students; however, because our understanding of the human brain continues to develop, the team was hesitant to provide conclusive explanations for the incongruities in white and gray matter.
The increased amount of gray matter among science-minded students may indicate a lower ability to empathize. Takeuchi notes that previous studies have found a connection between diminished social and self-relating cognitive capability and higher gray matter, hinting that brains can prioritize either empathizing or systematizing — never excelling in both. The team believes that this proclivity may indicate that science students display varying degrees of autism, which may attract them to this less personal field of study.
Conversely, the excess white matter in humanities students’ hippocampi may thwart a certain amount of spatial reasoning. Though study of the hippocampus is much less extensive — and tends to be contradictory — Takeuchi and team supposes that a high amount of testosterone in the fetal environment may overdevelop the hippocampus, impairing the ability to navigate and understand spatial environments. It is perhaps this difficulty in spatial cognition that leads some students to the more theoretical studies of humanities.
The Ramifications log
If other neurological studies align with Takeuchi’s findings, humanity may have a new and improved career test. Instead of asking subjective questions regarding an individual’s interests, headhunters can perform quick brain scans to determine which field a student will find most fulfilling. Nevermore will undergrads fret over their degree program of choice, wondering if they would be better served in a completely different atmosphere.
Of course, this future is likely centuries away. Even as studies like Takeuchi’s elucidate the deep secrets of the human brain, there is plenty we have to learn about our most precious organ. No matter what prospective undergraduate students get out of Takeuchi’s study, it is important to note that the differences his team discerned were marginally significant at best. The brain is abundantly complex and infinitely malleable, which means that no matter a student’s neural structure, she is capable of studying any subject. However, her slightly lower empathy or worse spatial cognition may make it slightly more difficult.