ally and Julie Johnson found that neuroscientists have documented this capacity using functional MRIs, which give a picture of the brain in operation. These scans show that when women process information, their brains light up in a lot of different regions, taking in a multiplicity of details. By contrast, when men process information, their brain activity tends to be concentrated in one region.
The result? Women’s attention for the most part operates like radar, scanning the environment, picking up a broad range of clues, and paying attention to context. Whereas men’s attention operates more like a laser, focusing tightly and absorbing information in sequence.
Of course, all human beings fall at different places along this spectrum. Some women have a more laser-like noticing style and some men have more well-developed radar. Noticing styles also change over time, depending on how they are used. Because human neural circuits adapt, grow and shrink as you practice different behaviors, your brain develops new abilities depending on which circuits get used. So if your job requires you to analyze a lot of data, your neural paths will become more laser-like over time. If your job requires you to be aware of people’s responses, the neural paths that support radar will become more robust.
But as with any strength, radar has its shadow side. A well-developed radar can make it difficult for you to filter out unhelpful distractions, scattering your attention and undermining your ability to be present. Radar can degrade your capacity to compartmentalize perceptions that might undermine your confidence and ability to perform.
Radar may also be in part responsible for women’s tendency to give themselves a hard time. Being hyperaware of other people’s reactions can feed the fires of self-doubt and cause you to overthink your actions. Having an active radar may therefore be in part responsible if you have a tendency to ruminate. Especially if you put a negative spin on whatever you notice.