Linked Sex Differences in Cognition and Functional Connectivity in Youth

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Sep;25(9):2383-94. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu036. Epub 2014 Mar 18.


Sex differences in human cognition are marked, but little is known regarding their neural origins. Here, in a sample of 674 human participants ages 9-22, we demonstrate that sex differences in cognitive profiles are related to multivariate patterns of resting-state functional connectivity MRI (rsfc-MRI). Males outperformed females on motor and spatial cognitive tasks; females were faster in tasks of emotion identification and nonverbal reasoning. Sex differences were also prominent in the rsfc-MRI data at multiple scales of analysis, with males displaying more between-module connectivity, while females demonstrated more within-module connectivity. Multivariate pattern analysis using support vector machines classified subject sex on the basis of their cognitive profile with 63% accuracy (P < 0.001), but was more accurate using functional connectivity data (71% accuracy; P < 0.001). Moreover, the degree to which a given participant's cognitive profile was "male" or "female" was significantly related to the masculinity or femininity of their pattern of brain connectivity (P = 2.3 × 10(-7)). This relationship was present even when considering males and female separately. Taken together, these results demonstrate for the first time that sex differences in patterns of cognition are in part represented on a neural level through divergent patterns of brain connectivity.

Keywords: adolescence; cognition; connectivity; connectome; development; fMRI; network; resting-state; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motion
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen