What’s Going On In There?
There is a war in the world of neuroscientists, those who argue for and those who argue against men and women having different brains. Some neuroscientists believe that the differences noted by other scientists are too statistically insignificant and that many of the studies aren’t quantifiable. However, others believe that identifying differences in male and female brains are vital to the progression of medicine and that their findings are in fact significant.
Either way, the exploration of a human’s brain is fascinating and endless.
To get involved, we’ve selected some scientific studies which delve into a man’s brain, which include threatened masculinity, disease and an analysis of whether we should be looking for differences in human brains at all.
Remember to bear in mind the disagreements previously mentioned! For now, it seems that only time and A LOT of research will tell.
A research article by Jiang Xin et al., indicates that “gender-related differences likely exist in the whole-brain range.” These include several specific brain regions such as;
- The left precuneus (involved in memory tasks).
- The left postcentral gyrus (involved in sensory receptors).
- The left cingulate gyrus (involved in processing behaviour and emotions).
- The right orbital gyrus of frontal lobe (involved in controlling our personality).
- The left occipital thalamus in the grey matter (involved in exchanging information).
They describe their findings as providing “a new insight into the structure difference between men and women, which highlights the importance of considering sex as a biological variable in brain research.” This would ring true with the brain’s structural changes documented in our article on pregnant women’s brains.
We recently wrote an article on the ‘macho man’ stigma that still surrounds men in today’s world, mostly due to environmental, social and psychological factors. Maintaining a masculine exterior is at the top of numerous (but not all) men’s priority lists. And it seems they may have their brain to blame for that.
Research carried out by Anne Maria Möller-Leimkühler and published in 2018, explored why acts of violence and terrorism are “predominantly a male phenomenon.” She explains how “generally and throughout history, young males have been the main protagonists of criminal and political violence.” Möller-Leimkühler highlights the following as factors which contribute towards threatened masculinity:
- “Neurobiological aspects, such as sex differences in the brain that predispose males to physical aggression and violence.
- Gender role aspects, with regard to aggression and violence being basic components for demonstrating and reconstructing masculinity.
- Demographic aspects of male youth bulges as potential breeding grounds for terrorism.”
She concludes that “experiences of threatened masculinity may be an underlying factor and driving force for terrorism.” So, thinking you’re being emasculated, in extreme cases, can trigger your brain to think and act aggressively. Does this offer an excuse for the violent person’s behaviour? Hopefully not. However, these findings do suggest that a man’s brain can be affected on a lesser scale by feelings of emasculation. And tackling these thoughts early-doors is vital to moving forward in life, in a positive way.
“Aside from the fact that 60% of all Alzheimer’s caregivers are women, at the age of 65, women have a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men.”
What is it about a man’s brain that significantly decreases their chances of developing Alzheimer’s? Professor Winblad digs deeper to find out:
“From the perspective of treatment, emerging evidence also points to the possibility that sex-specific genetic and hormonal factors contribute to variance in clinical efficacy. For example, the improved response to acetylcholinesterase inhibitor treatment in women (for the treatment and management of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s) with AD was attributed to variants of the oestrogen receptor α gene (ESR1).”
He highlights how “women and men also have different clinical presentations, in that men show show more aggressive behaviours, more comorbidity and higher mortality than women; women tend to have more affective symptoms and disability but longer survival times.”
Beware The Comparison Of The Sexes
“The hunt for male and female distinctions inside the skull is a lesson in bad research practice” writes Lise Eliot, who also says that “the brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart.”
Maney says that it’s vital to include both sexes in biomedical research, to enable the development of medicine and understand inner human mechanisms. However, Eliot and many others worry that the “more sex differences (that) are discovered, the number of misinterpretations will also increase.”
She states that training is needed for the scientists who are comparing men and women in their studies:
“The training materials currently state that women have larger left cortical language receptors than men but the source cited does not mention language. According to the same course, men mount a ‘fight or flight’ response when faced with a crisis whereas women ‘tend and befriend’; this difference is said to be caused by a sex difference in oxytocin.
One of the cited sources does not mention sex differences… Certainly, if these sorts of misrepresentations can creep into training materials, we can expect them to pop up practically anywhere— including in our own work. Training in the interpretation and communication of sex differences should be a priority.”
As with all scientific research, it’s important to do your own personal research. Have a snoop around on Google Scholar or PubMed and explore all of the studies on any given topic. Go and check out the facts and findings – has the study been replicated and who has sponsored the research? More and more studies on sex differences and the brain will come flooding in over the next few years, so be ready to separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the cerebrum from the cerebellum and know what’s what.
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