Thursday, December 1, 2005

Attention, Dr. Frankenstein, and maybe Gloria Steinem: There are girl brains, then there are boy brains. But there’s not one generic human brain, no matter what hand-wringing feminists may insist in their quest for sexual equality.

Some stark new clinical evidence shows that men and women are just not the same upstairs.

“The comedians are right. The science proves it. A man’s brain and a woman’s brain really do work differently,” a research team from the University of Alberta in Canada announced yesterday.

After analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) of 23 men and 10 women, the team found that the sexes use different areas of the brain even when working on exactly the same task.

“The larger implications of this work is that we may increasingly find out that there are differences in the ‘hard wiring’ of male and female brains,” said study author Dr. Peter Silverstone, a psychiatrist.

Though Dr. Silverstone hopes that these revelations will lead to more innovative ways to treat depression and other mental illnesses, these findings might one day explain certain persistent behaviors that make for a more lively existence.

Why do men, for example, refuse to ask for directions while women are busy peering at maps and landmarks during the same automobile journey? Why do women cry and men sleep through a sappy movie? Could it be that old hard-wiring?

During the Canadian study, volunteers were given memory, language, spatial and coordination tests while their brains were monitored through the MRIs. The patterns revealed that men and women clearly met the challenges differently.

“The results jumped out at us,” said Emily Bell, one of the researchers. “Sometimes males and females would perform the same tasks and show different brain activation. And sometimes they would perform different tasks and show the same brain activation.”

Similar research also reinforces differences in the brains of men and women.

Psychiatrists at the Stanford University School of Medicine announced Nov. 7 that the sexes have different senses of humor as well. Using MRIs to monitor the brains of 10 men and 10 women as they scanned the newspaper cartoons, researchers found “sex-specific differences in the brain’s response to humor.”

Men want and expect a good punch line. But women have a greater appreciation for language and fewer expectations, but if the punch line delivers, they have a greater sense of “reward,” the psychiatrists found.

The sexes also differ in the intelligence department.

“Human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior,” said psychologist Richard Haier of the University of California at Irvine upon releasing his study of male and female brains in January.

Again using MRIs, he found that men have more than six times the amount of gray matter — which controls information processing — in their brains as women do. But females have 10 times the amount of white matter, which controls networking abilities.

The findings “may help explain why men excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics) while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information … such as required for language,” the study found.

There’s some reassuring common ground, though. A study of almost 700 adults released yesterday by Cornell University found that men and women are happier with each other, rather than alone. And the stronger the relationship’s commitment, the greater the happiness and sense of well-being of the partners, the analysis found.

“Being married is associated with higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, greater happiness and less distress, whereas people who are not in stable romantic relationships tend to report lower self-esteem, less life satisfaction, less happiness and more distress,” sociologist Claire Kamp Dushsaid yesterday.

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