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Male vs Female Brains

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Looking at the sales of glossy magazines that promise to teach us how to work with someone of the opposite gender as well as self-help books are proof that we need a little help understanding what’s going on inside our heads.

As it turns out, it may be better to turn to neuroscience rather than to those glossy magazines. Research indicates that we do in fact have different brain structures and connections, and we might also use our brain differently. I am going to select some of these differences to discuss below.

To begin with it is very important to know that the size and activity of our brains are different. Men have bigger but less active brains. Brain of a man is 8 to 10 percent larger than a woman’s restless brain. But the total size doesn’t necessarily mean better, because also inside the brain the size of various regions differs. Women have bigger frontal lobe which is essential for decision making, problem solving, multitasking and lots of other complicated functions. The bigger Orbitofrontal cortex in women results in having more impulse control among them. Since women tend to have a larger deep limbic system than men, they’re more in touch with their feelings and are better at expressing their emotions. This makes women better at connecting with others, but unfortunately also more prone to different types of depression. Women also appear to have a higher emotional intelligence (EQ).

Many men are sharply left-brain dominant, they are more strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere, while women tend to be more evenly balanced between left and right-brain processing. Women are therefore thought to be slightly more intuitive. Men are often less socially adept, and are more task-oriented thinkers than females. On the other hand men have bigger parietal lobe which is crucial for space perception and orientation in space. This parietal region is thicker in the female brain, making it harder for them to mentally rotate objects, which is an important spatial skill. Women often report difficulty with spatial tasks, both on tests and in real life. The inferior part of the parietal lobule, which controls the numerical brain function, is larger as well in males. On standardized tests, men often score higher on mathematical tests than women. Also amygdale is larger in male brain which regulates the sexual behavior and fight- flight reactions and also plays a large role in emotional memory formation and storage. On average, women retain emotional memories more vividly than do men. Sometimes, however, this can have a negative effect on women and they may have impaired memory at times due to strong emotional overlap. Another negative outcome of women forming strong emotional memories is again an increased vulnerability to depression. Females tend to dwell on negative feelings or “memories of negative life experiences” which can lead to depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder, is also more prevalent in women (2 times more common in women than in men) for similar reasons. Emotional memory encoding also differs between the male and female amygdala; males encode emotional memories using the right side of their amygdala while women use the left. When faced with stressful situations, men are usually more alert and employ ‘fight or flight’ tactics, while women use a ‘tend or befriend’ response that is rooted in their natural instincts for caring for their children and establishing strong group bonds. A behavioral difference that has been linked to the amygdala’s size is sexual drive. Men have a greater sex drive than women; this may be due to the fact that males have a larger amygdala.

Here comes a very famous one that men might like to hear: women talk too much? It is true that women use language more and easier in different situations than men do and are purported to have better communication skills and are better at language-based tasks. That’s because of two reasons 1-language-associated cortical regions are proportionally larger in the female brain. 2- Women process language in both hemispheres while males favor a single brain half.

Let’s take a look at one of my favorites which is the gray and white matter. Men have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter in the brain than women, but listen to this: Women have about 10 times more white matter than men do. This difference may account for differences in how men and women think. Men seem to think with their gray matter, which is full of active neurons. Women think with the white matter, which consists more of connections between the neurons. In this way, a woman’s brain is a bit more complicated in setup, but those connections may allow a woman’s brain to work faster than a man’s.

In women’s brains, the neurons are packed in tightly, so that they’re closer together. This proximity, in conjunction with speedy connections facilitated by the white matter, is another reason why women’s brains work faster. Some women even have as many as 12 percent more neurons than men do. In studying women’s brains, those neurons were found to be most densely crowded on certain layers of the cortex, namely the ones responsible for signals coming in and out of the brain. This could be one of the reasons why women tend to score higher on tests that involve language and communication. These differences might be present from birth.

But the density of women’s neurons, or the size of a man’s brain, is not enough for predicting intelligence. As we’ve already said, men use gray matter, and women use white, but they’re also accessing different sections of the brain for the same task. In one study, men and women were asked to sound out different words. Men relied on just one small area on the left side of the brain to complete the task, while the majority of women used areas in both sides of the brain. However, both men and women sounded out the words equally well, indicating that there is more than one way for the brain to arrive at the same result. For example, while women get stuck with a bad reputation for reading maps, it may just be that they orient to landmarks differently. And as for intelligence, average IQ scores are the same for both men and women.

The last point I would like to write about here is the susceptibility to brain disorders. Men are more likely to be dyslexic or have other language disabilities, since they are more often left-brain dominant. Males are also more prone to ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and autism, while women are as we said before, more susceptible to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.

It is important to notice that I didn’t want to discuss the effects of hormones which have huge influences on the brain function. Maybe we could get back to it another time. For now I hope you found this topic as intriguing as I did and enjoyed this amount of collected information. If you have alternative points of view as many people do, please do not hesitate to let me know.

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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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What does religion do to our brain?

1. The Prayer Maker Machinery - A PRAYER MACHINE -  2011 - James Paterson - 53 x 78 x 25 cm  steel wire , African black wood   

      I was walking at the David Pecat Square the other day when I met James Paterson and saw his beautiful work of art. David is an incredible visual artist who is a perfect illustration of someone with a creative mind. His work was very unique. There was something very special about it. There were these drawing-like sculptural pieces made from wire that he called prayer machines. I mean the name itself, surely gets credit. A prayer Machine was definitely what I wanted to know more about so I went there and asked him about it and this is how he explained his art to me:

    These pieces I call prayer Machines are an expression of verbal language in prayer. I find that words often fail me when I pray. I can’t always find a word that will objectively describe a longing, desire or feelings that I have and as a visual artist I wondered what prayer would look like if I could see it. Obviously once made, the art pieces then become subjective because they are a material representation of my prayer which is an organic and relational process. Yet I call them machines because they do something ; in a fleeting sort of way these whimsical prayer Machines begin to capture, in visual essence, the elusive butterfly, the prayer that is my attempt to communicate with my creator. I construct them out of steel rods and wire then anchor them in a finished wooden base; a blending of the manufactured and natural worlds…..

    What is more fascinating than extraordinary art, illustrating belief, passion and creativity of human mind as an introduction to this topic?      

     I can’t call myself a religious person but as religion has played an important role in my life I can for sure say that I would like to be open to the possibility that god might exist. I also appreciate the religious development as long as it restricts to the person only and not when the person wants to impose the religious rules to others. For many years I went from believing and exploring different religions to not believing in anything or believing in a higher power and so on… With passage of time religion has gone out and in of fashion for many times in my life until I understood why I couldn’t get it out of my head and then I realized that religion has always been part of my life. It only glistened sometimes and then it just tarnished or changed its shape, but it was always there.

     Let’s have a quick look at it from the neuroscience point of view. Although this is a difficult topic to talk about in simple terms especially when it comes to issues concerning consciousness, logic, emotional processing mechanisms of the brain, issues that are essential to address when dealing with the neurological correlates of spiritual experiences and religious beliefs. In order to do this I have used many references such as the work of Andrew Newberg,  Mark Waldman and Dick Swaab and many others.

     We are all born with a particular sensitivity for being religious or not. Let’s say we carry this sensitivity on our DNA’s and then there is social environment that does the rest. Children have all an idea about what god is and how he looks like. If you ask them they often draw the picture of god as an old man with long hair and beard. As children grow in to adults that image changes. In fact the more a person thinks about God, the more complex and imaginative the concept becomes, taking on unique nuances of meaning.
If you contemplate god long enough something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to some subtle experiences. Perceptions alter, beliefs begin to change, and if God has meaning for you, then God becomes neurologically real. For some, god may remain primitive concept, limited to the way a young child interprets the world. But for most people, God is transformed into symbol or metaphor and that neurological concept will never go away. So if you already are sensitive to be religious then the social environment where you grow up and the social context is crucial for having belief. Belief takes its place in our brain and stays there.

      Various practices show that thinking of a loving being causes the compassion centers in the brain to light up, whereas belief in an authoritarian spirit stimulates regions that prime the brain for fighting.
Recent imaging studies have also shown that there are various parts of the brain such as parietal lobe and frontal lobe or even temporal lobe that will be more activated when people pray, meditate or have religious experiences. These parts are also involved in many different functions such as creative thinking, attention, concentration, etc.

     So religion, especially when started at a young age and when the person has certain sensitivity for it, will shape the brain to a different form and that causes changes in the way we think and behave. Even if we decide not to practice any religion, it will appear in other shapes. For example people who have believed in God in the past might now be more open to spirituality or believe in being able to change the world so they will fight for it and they become activists for example. This is just another type of expression but still the same brain structure causes this.  So I guess you could say that beside the group of people who never had belief in their life there are a group of people who are religious and there are also people who have a religious brain. I probably belong to third group with the religious brain. To which group do you belong?

     I hope that this topic as well as this weblog gives the readers a new perspective in how we make our choices and illustrates how beautiful and complex our brain is.
When I talk about this topic with friends they sometimes ask me whether they should encourage or prevent their children at young age to believe in God. The only answer I can give them is as Dick Swaab once said: send your children to a school that teaches them how to think rather than what to think.

If religion is just an activation of certain parts of the brain, does that mean God or any higher power is just in our heads? Or God could have created our brain this way?

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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