fMRI shows Men, Women are Different

December 22nd, 2009 | Sources: BBC

In the 15 years since communications expert John Gray penned the book, Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, the concept that the 2 sexes are wired differently has become entrenched in popular culture.

And there’s plenty of evidence to support his observations.

lookatthatThalamus!Most recently, a team from Poland used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess gender differences in brain activity in response to images  designed to evoke various emotional reactions.

Lo and behold, they found plenty!

Andrzej Urbanik and colleagues from Jagiellonian University Hospital in Krakow demonstrated the differences in 40 volunteers, and presented their findings at the recently completed meetings of the Radiological Society of North America.

When the scientists showed women a sequence of negative images, fMRI records showed widespread activity in the left thalamus, an area known to relay sensory information to other parts of the brain that process pain and pleasure.

When the same negative images were shown to men, the fMRI revealed that the left insula lit up like a pinball machine. This region helps control involuntary activities like breathing, heart rate and digestion, and is involved in the so-called “fight or flight response.”

As for the positive images, the fMRI results in women revealed strong activity in areas of the brain associated with memory, while in men strong activity was found in areas associated with visual processing.

In an interview with the BBC, Urbanik postulated that “when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action.”

As for the differential responses to the positive images, Urbanik suggested the differences imply that women tend to analyze them in a broader social context and associate them with particular memories.

An image of a smiling toddler for example, seems more likely to evoke memories of one’s own child in Venusians than in Martians.


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