Study finds gender differences in brain activity
Scientists at the Jagiellonian University Medical College in Poland have discovered that brain patterns differ in men and women following positive and negative stimuli. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in November.
The research team used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), enabling them to get a close look at how certain stimuli activate various areas of the brain in both sexes.
'Men may direct more attention to sensory aspects of emotional stimuli and tend to process them in terms of implications for required action, whereas women direct more attention to the feelings engendered by emotional stimuli,' explained Dr Andrzej Urbanik, chairman of the college.
The researchers assessed 40 right-handed volunteers aged between 18 and 36: 21 men and 19 women. The subjects viewed images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS), a standardised testing system that provides a set of normative emotional stimuli for experimental investigations of emotion and attention.
Dr Urbanik and his team displayed the images in two runs: for the first one, only negative pictures were shown, and for the second run, only positive pictures were shown.
For the male participants, the researchers noted strong activity in their left insula (insular cortex), which is involved in decision-making systems and can trigger subjective feeling that lead to action. For the women, the left thalamus was more active. The thalamus is an area linking the cerebral cortex to pain and pleasure centres.
'The brain activation seen in the women might indicate stronger involvement of the neural circuit, which is associated with identification of emotional stimuli,' Dr Urbanik said.
'The more pronounced activation of the insular cortex in the men might be related to the automatic components, such as elevated heart rate or increased sweating, that accompany watching emotional material,' he added.
'In men, the negative images on the slides were more potent in driving their automatic system. This might signal that when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action.'
In terms of positive images, women showed greater activity in the right superior temporal gyrus, a ridge on the cerebral cortex that is involved in auditory processing and memory. The men showed stronger activity in the bilateral occipital lobes that are linked with visual processing.
'Positive images are devoured by men's' visual and motivation systems,' the researcher said.