It’s a popular stereotype: women overthink things more than men.
Now the biggest brain imaging survey ever conducted has found evidence to support that theory.
Analyzing data from more than 45,000 studies, researchers at Amen Clinics in California concluded that women’s brains are significantly more active than men’s.
Blood flow was much higher in many parts of women’s brains as compared to men’s, increasing their ability to focus and empathize but also their vulnerability to feel anxious.
While the finding may settle a few couple’s arguments, scientists say it also offers crucial insight into why certain brain disorders are more common in women – such as Alzheimer’s – and others in men – such as ADHD.
Women have significantly higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, depression and anxiety disorders.
Men, meanwhile, are more likely to have ADHD and conduct-related problems, and are more likely to be incarcerated.
Women’s brains were found to be significantly more active than those of men, particularly in two regions – the prefrontal cortex, associated with focus and impulse control, and the limbic system, which is associated with mood and anxiety.
There were some parts of the brain that were more active in men, specifically the visual and coordination centers of the brain.
These findings might explain why women tend to exhibit greater strengths in the areas of empathy, intuition, collaboration, self-control and appropriate concern.
They could also account for increased vulnerability in women to anxiety, depression, insomnia and eating disorders.
Researchers looked at single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging studies provided by nine clinics. SPECT can measure blood flow in the brain.
‘This is a very important study to help understand gender-based brain differences,’ said lead author and founder of Amen Clinics Inc Dr Daniel G Amen.
‘The quantifiable differences we identified between men and women are important for understanding gender-based risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using functional neuroimaging tools, such as SPECT, are essential to developing precision medicine brain treatments in the future.’
The images were taken when the subjects were at rest or performing different cognitive tests to trigger blood flow in specific brain regions.
Subjects included 119 healthy volunteers and 26,683 patients with a variety of psychiatric conditions such as brain trauma, bipolar disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia/psychotic disorders, and ADHD.
In total, 128 brain regions were analyzed first while the participants were resting, then while they performed a concentration task.
The study adds to a topic which has already drawn a lot of research and debate.
In 2015, a large-scale study by a research team at the University of Basel focused on determining the gender-dependent relationship between emotions, memory performance and brain activity.
With the help of 3,398 test subjects from four sub-trials, the researchers were able to demonstrate that females rated emotional image content – especially negative content – as more emotionally stimulating than their male counterparts did.
In the case of neutral images, however, there were no gender-related differences in emotional appraisal.
In a subsequent memory test, female participants could freely recall significantly more images than the male participants.
Surprisingly though, women had a particular advantage over men when recalling positive images.
Using fMRI data from 696 test subjects, the researchers were also able to show that stronger appraisal of negative emotional image content by the female participants is linked to increased brain activity in motoric regions.