Does Stress Affect Male and Female Brains Differently?

An article appearing in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience  journal (SCAN) on the research study being done at the  University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discusses the difference in how the male and female brain responds differently when dealing with stress.

The researchers and Dr.J.J.Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor of Radiology and Neurology and lead author of the study, claim to have found different areas of the brain which activate and function in different ways for men and women when they are dealing with specifically performance-related stress.

The findings suggest the stress responses are a fundamentally different function in men and women. The male being referred to as “fight-or-flight” and “tend-and-befriend” in women. As a result of evolution, over time, males generally confronted stress by either dealing with it head-on or fleeing from the situation.

Female, generally, may have instead responded by utilizing a nurturing approach and aligning themselves with social groups as a coping mechanism during times of adversity.

In Dr. Wang’s study, 32 healthy subjects (16 men and 16 women) were given MRI brain scans at different intervals of a challenging mathematical task that was performed under stressful circumstances.

The researchers escalated the stress in this experiment by frequently prompting participants to go faster and faster and would ask them to restart the task if their response was not correct.

The researcher also created a low-stress control condition, where they asked the study subjects to count backwards, but applied no stress or pressure to the task.

The researchers found through the MRI tests that for the males the stress resulted in increased cerebral blood flow in the right prefrontal cortex and reduced blood flow in the left orbitofrontal cortex.

The health advocacy program recognizes that the females, under stress the limbic system was stimulated and activated. The limbic system is located in the mid-brain and is the first part of the evolutionary human brain where emotions formed. One very interesting observation in the study is that while both men and women’s brain activation lasted beyond the stress task, the activation lasted longer in females.

Dr. J.J. Wang claims, “Knowing that women respond to stress by increasing activity in brain regions involved with emotion, and these changes last longer than in men, may help us begin to explain the gender differences in the incidence of mood disorders.”

This study can help all of us to understand the He/She difference a bit better and hopefully help us to create better communication with the opposite sex. It also may help you tailor your approach to nursing and whole health coaching.

The study report can be found at:–female-differences

For more whole health discussions like this, listen to my weekly radio show Living Above The Drama available on iHeartRadio. Live Recordings of Guest Interviews are also available for free on this website. 

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