Sex in the brain

economic_sex_diffs_image.jpgThe debate about male-female differences has always been controversial owing to the link with social and political issues. Where science has previously feared to tread, researchers are now beginning to untangle the differences and similarities.

The Economist has an in-depth article where they summarise and discuss many of the most reliable male-female differences in psychology and dispel some of the myths about men and women being fundamentally different in the way they think.

The article also tackles differences in the structures of male and female brains, noting that male brains are, on average, 9% bigger than female brains, but that female brains tend to be more densely packed with grey matter – the cell bodies and dendrites of neurons where most of the cognitive ‘work’ is supposedly done.

The San Francisco Chronicle continues in this vein by discussing the work of Dr Louann Brizendine a neuropsychiatrist who has been researching male-female brain differences and has recently published a book on her findings.

She’s obviously trying to do a bit of PR for the book (“…talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl’s brain. We’re not talking about a small amount of pleasure. This is huge. It’s a major dopamine and oxytocin rush, which is the biggest, fattest neurological reward you can get outside of an orgasm”) but otherwise discusses some of the latest and most interesting developments in the field.

One of her particular interests is the role of hormones in brain function, both during the development of the fetus, and during childhood and adult life. This is becoming an increasing focus in neuroscience research.

A good place to start if you want a grounding in the scientific literature, is a recent article by Larry Cahill in Nature Reviews Neuroscience entitled ‘Why sex matters for neuroscience’.

Link to Economist article ‘The mismeasure of woman’.
Link to SF Chronicle article ‘Femme Mentale’.
Link to ‘Why sex matters for neuroscience’.

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