The sex of brains

written by Terry Robson

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Yeah, yeah, “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, you already know that story. Men and women are different, right, we all agree. The thing is that mostly these widely accepted differences are at the end user stage; we know that women and behave differently and there is no end of psychological research to support this truism. Less common are the studies that show that female and male brains are different at the biological function level which is why a new study is interesting, especially since they made their discovery by accident.

In the new study the researchers had set out to measure brain activity during blood pressure trials when their MRI results showed some significant differences between the sexes. The area of the brain that showed these differences was the insular cortex.

The insular cortex has five parts known as gyri (the plural of gyrus) and the insular cortex as a whole is central to the experience of emotion, blood pressure control, and self-awareness. As you can see this is a vital part of the brain and the researchers did not expect a sex-based difference here but they did find one.

During the study the researchers found that the blood pressure response in the right front gyrus showed a lot greater activation in men than in women. We know that the right front gyrus is involved in keeping blood pressure high. It is possible that women activated the right front gyrus of the insular cortex prior to the experiment which would indicate that the sexes use the area differently. Equally though, it is possible that this part of the brain is wired differently for men and women. Given the role of this brain region in functions like self-awareness and emotions it is tantalising to contemplate just how different the sexes may be.


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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.