Beyond the binary: Rethinking sex and the brain

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The paper reviews the relations between sex and brain in light of the binary conceptualization of these relations and the challenges posed to it by the ‘mosaic’ hypothesis. Recent formulations of the binary framework range from arguing that the typical male brain is different from the typical female brain to claiming that brains are typically male or female because brain structure can be used to predict the sex category (female/male) of the brain's owner. These formulations are challenged by evidence that sex effects on the brain may be opposite under different conditions, that human brains are comprised of mosaics of female-typical and male-typical features, and that sex category explains only a small part of the variability in human brain structure. These findings led to a new, non-binary, framework, according to which mosaic brains reside in a multi-dimensional space that cannot meaningfully be reduced to a male-female continuum or to a binary variable. This framework may also apply to sex-related variables and has implications for research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Brain structure
  • Human
  • Hypothalamus
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Male-female continuum
  • Mosaic
  • Rat
  • Stress
  • Typical female brain
  • Typical male brain


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