Thursday, October 18, 2007

brain-off, men v. women

i've always been fascinated by the brain.
i wanted to be a neurosurgeon waaaay back in the day. . . . it wasn't meant to be, though my interest has never waned.
Several years back, Rob and i watched a docu on the human brain. I watched with rapt attention, Rob's eyes often struggled to remain open and he occasionally dozed off. *he does that during documentaries - i guess cuz there aren't any car chases or commercials?* (don't tell him i told you!)

During this documentary they showed thermal imaging scans of two brains. 1 female, 1 male.
The female brain at rest was lit up twice as much as the man's active brain!!! WOOT! I love that moment in medical documentary history. I'll remember it always. Its like a mental trophy i like to take off the shelf, with which to periodically tease Rob *whisper voice - i don't think he likes it!*

Anyway, here are some brainy facts: --taken from "The Female Brain - How It Really Works" in November 07 issue of Canadian Living (abridgements and paraphrasings, my own) This is kind of unusual for me to blog like this. .i'm usually on about my feelings and i don't usually go 'factoid' on you. . but you have to change it up sometimes, eh?!

*the hippocampus (hub of emotion and memory formation) is larger in the female brain. The brain circuitry for language and observing emotions is more highly developed in females.

According to a 2004 Cdn study, a 3 month-old girl 's ability to read facial expressions jumps 400% above that of a boy's. . thanks to the amygdala, hippocampus and insula - which rule memory and gut feelings. Men are guided by testosterone which means they can instantly read anger, threat or extremes like crying, but are less capable of interpreting subtleties.

*females have 11% more neurons governing language and hearing than men do.

*the brain is divided into 2 hemispheres. Males use specialized regions in one side or the other to complete tasks sequentially. Females use both hemispheres equally to complete multiple jobs simulatneously. Females have an 8-lane super highway for processing emotion, males have a small country road. Males have an "O'Hare Intnl Airport" as a hub for processing their thoughts about sex. Women have a small airfield nearby that lands small and private planes.

*intelligence remains the same between the sexes, however there are gender-related variations.

*females possess a great number of 'mirror' neurons, which have been linked to the female's ability to empathize strongly. A British study had researchers adminstering weak & strong electric shocks to female subjects, using MRI to measure the brain's response to pain. Later their male partners received the same treatment. The women were told how strong the men's shocks were. MRI results showed the women's reactions to this knowledge of their partner's pain as strong as if the pain was their own. (i think that's almost mystical if you ask me. .)

*female "talk fests" *men say 'gossiping', women call it 'connecting'* release dopamine (the feel good hormone) and oxytocin (the 'bonding' hormone). A 20-second hug floods the female brain with oxytocin. Oxytocin is released in males through affection and tenderness, but the male brain is more apt to link this to sex.

*the amygdala and hypothalmus in the female brain are 50% smaller than the male brain. (these portions of the brain govern sexual pursuit)

*spatial awareness - testosterone is linked to increased spatial ability - directional tasks , map reading. Female brains navigate using landmarks, women have better visual memory and verbal skills and fine motor coordination.

*aggression - threatening situations ? men react with aggression because their hormones take a short, direct pathway through the brain. Women respond with fear and feelings about protection

*stress - men's heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket, with a strong fight or flight response. women feel the same stresses with the exception of the high-hormone phase of their cycle.. . in stress, women 'tend and befriend'. . become protective or talk through issues with their friends, which releases oxytocin and lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels - making them less susceptible to hypertension and cardiac disease.

I find these clinical facts interesting but i do think that lists of such things can seem a bit arid. When i'm not annoyed by the differences between me and my husband, i can try to bust my thoughts out of stereotype and appreciate what i don't understand. I think men will always think that women are "a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma' and women will always think that men are from Mars. Can't see this changing. No matter how many studies the ubiquitous 'they' do, no matter how many self'-help books promise to guide us through the intricacies of the each other's beings, i think we'll always be on this parallel, yet entwined journey together. . never quite understanding but always intersecting in love, respect and even awe.


J9 said...


....that explains a few things....


kathryn said...

ha ha!!!!

Carla said...

Factoids rule! Thanks Kat!