Male/Female Brain Differences

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by: Roger Dooley

An interesting Baltimore Sun article, Hormones wire men’s, women’s brains differently, surveys recent research showing how hormones trigger physical differences in male and female brains.

Among the newest findings: A previously unknown hormone appears to launch puberty’s sexual and mental transformation; growth hormone is made in the brain’s memory center at rates up to twice as high in females as in males; and the brain’s hot button for emotions, the amygdala, is wired to different parts of the brain in women and men.  

Testosterone and estrogen, the primary male and female hormones, have been shown to permanently affect behavior; if these hormones are blocked at key stages of development, gender-related behavior can be altered. The newly discovered hormone is kisspeptin, which is released by the brain at puberty. It triggers the release of other hormones, and eventually estrogen and testosterone are sent back to the brain, imprinting female or male brain characteristics.

“The bias of mainstream neuroscience for the last 25 years has been, ‘OK, sure there’s some sex differences way down deep in the brain in this little structure called the hypothalamus, but otherwise the brains of men and women were pretty much the same,’” said Larry Cahill, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine.

“That was wrong, as wrong as could be,” said Cahill, who is using imaging technology to show how male and female brains are wired for emotions. “Sex matters a lot in how the brain works, and we neuroscientists have to change our tune.”

These gender differences result in different ways of processing the same information:

In one experiment, Cahill showed that when men and women watched the same emotional movie, the right side of the amygdala was more active in men, and the left amygdala was more active in women. “They’re using very different brain processes to create enhanced memories,” he said.  

Interesting and provocative work, though the idea that men and women respond to different ads, sales approaches, etc., isn’t exactly breaking news to marketers. Still, better understanding of these gender differences may lead to better targeting and fewer marketing misfires in the future.

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