Since time immemorial men and women have noted their psychological differences. A new high tech scientific study reveals they may occur in the brain.
University of Pennsylvania researchers used a functional magnetic imaging machine, fMRI to scan the brains of 16 women and 16 men.
While experiencing stress their brains were scanned. The researchers induced a moderate amount of stress by asking the subjects to count backwards by 13 starting at 1,600. They monitored the heart rate, measured brain blood flow, and stress hormone levels, cortisol in particular.
The researchers found there were differences in the blood flow to the right side of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for the fight or flight response. Women experienced increased flow of blood to the limbic system, associated with a friendlier and nurturing response.
This finding may lead to a screening process for mood disorders. Dr. Wang, a lead researcher commented, “In the future, when physicians treat patients — especially depression, PTSD — they need to take this into account that really, gender matters.”
Other experts caution that hormones, genetics and environmental factors may influence these results, bringing to light yet another difference between men and women. Neuroscientists say the changes in the brain during stress response also lasted longer in women.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field rather than X-rays to take clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. fMRI uses this technology to identify regions of the brain where blood vessels are expanding, chemical changes are taking place, or extra oxygen is being delivered.
These are indications that a particular part of the brain is processing information and giving commands to the body. As a patient performs a particular task, the metabolism will increase in the brain area responsible for that task, changing the signal in the MRI image. So by performing specific tasks that correspond to different functions, scientists can locate the part of the brain that governs that function.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT: The perception events and experiences as being overwhelmed, out of control, fear, etc., act as “stressors,” triggering the brain to release hormones that respond protectively to the perceived danger. Specifically, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, into the bloodstream. This speeds up heart and breathing rates, and increases blood pressure and metabolism. These and other physical changes help us to react quickly and effectively under pressure.
This is known as the “stress response,” or more commonly, as the “fight or flight response.” When they occur on a short term basis, the body quickly recovers. However, if low levels of stress become long term or chronic, it can harm and can be detrimental to one’s health. The nervous system remains slightly activated and continues to pump out extra stress hormones over an extended period, leaving the person feeling depleted or overwhelmed, and weakening the body’s immune system.
STRESS-REDUCING TIPS: There are several easy, practical things people can do to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. (1) Be realistic and don’t try to be perfect, or expect others to be so. (2) Don’t over-schedule; cut out an activity or two when you start to feel overwhelmed. (3) Get a good night’s sleep. (4) Get regular exercise to manage stress — just not excessive or compulsive exercise — and follow a healthy diet. (5) Learn to relax by building time into your schedule for reading or a nice long bath.