<%-- Page Title--%> Health <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 129 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 7, 2003

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The Brain Gamne


If you want a clear illustration of one of the many differences in the ways men and women think, a simple car ride will paint a pretty clear picture.

When Saima and Robin Arman of Uttara hit the road recently, their navigational radar tuned into different frequencies. Robin used a mental map, while Saima used landmarks to get around. As the couple tried to get around a tricky area of the town, Robin said, "Turn left to Westecs" while Saima said, "You have to turn before the ice cream cone."

Dr. Helen Fisher, an expert in gender differences, would say the Armans' are not unusual in their navigational skills. "Women go from one object to another. On the other hand, a man will say, go two miles down the road and then head east. That's very different from saying go down to the shoe store and take a left at the high stone wall."

But these differences begin long before people get their driver's licenses. The Armans are already observing major differences in the way their three children communicate, particularly their two children -- Saimon, 11, and Nayeema, 9.

Saima Arman says her daughter Nayeema describes her day with a lot more drama than her son. "Everything is about relationship," she says. "I know who was whose best friend today and who fought with who and what boy likes whom. Saimon has no interest in that kind of stuff. Saimon would be happy to just say, “My day was fine.”

Do the Armans' family stories sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. The fact is men and women are very different in the way they speak, behave, solve problems, and even remember where the car keys are.

Size Does Matter
The reasons behind these differences have fuelled arguments for generations and continue to do so today. Is it our biology, or our culture? Many scientists say it's all in our heads, or, more precisely, in the way men and women's brains are designed and the way they function.
A century ago, the discovery that female brains were about 10 percent smaller than male brains was cited as proof that women could never be as smart as men--contributing to their status as second-class citizens. We now know that size isn't everything when it comes to the power of brain. Our IQs are the same. In fact, the highest recorded I.Q. belongs to a woman, a writer named Marilyn vos Savant.

There are other, perhaps more significant, differences that distinguish male and female brains. Male brains are wired to move information quickly within each side -- or hemisphere -- of the brain. This gives them better spatial abilities. They can see an object in space, and react quickly.

In women's brains, areas of the cerebral cortex-- linked to language, judgment and memory -- are more densely packed with nerve cells than men's brains. This allows them to process that information more effectively.

Fisher explained that the 'corpus callosum,' which she
describes as a "big highway between the two sides of the brain," is larger in women toward the rear than it is in men. "Hence," she said, "the two sides of the brain are better interconnected" in women.

This means that women can absorb and analyse all sorts of information from the environment simultaneously. This makes women more adept at multitasking, while men tend to do better tackling one thing at a time.

Hard-Wired in the Womb?
Scientists are developing new ways of looking inside the working brain-- to see just how it's wired. Diagnostic tests such as Functional MRIs, which can measure blood flow, electrical activity and energy use, are being used to give researchers pictures of our brains in action.

Drs. Ruben and Raquel Gur, a husband and wife neuroscience team at the University of Pennsylvania, put men and women inside an MRI and studied how their brains responded to various verbal and spatial tasks.

In each case, the men's brains "lit up" in a few specific
areas, while the women's brains showed activity in many areas for both spatial and verbal tasks. Ruben Gur said the men's brain activity became completely focused, while women did exactly the opposite, activating other parts of their brain.

Researchers have found that the male brain's ability to focus on one area works better for spatial tests, while the female brain's approach is better for verbal tests. Scientists are still trying to figure out why that's the case.
The differences, researchers say, begin in the womb. At first, all foetuses' brains are virtually the same. At about nine weeks, however, testosterone surges through the male foetus, not only creating a boy's body, but actually hard-wiring the brain to be male. Without testosterone to spur those changes, girls develop "female" brains.

Michael Lewis, director of the Institute for the Study of Child Development at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, has documented behavioural differences in children as young as one year of age. In one study, Lewis placed toddler boys and girls behind a barrier, blocking them from reaching their mothers.

The male and female children had very different strategies for getting past the barrier. Lewis said, "The boy child wants to get back to mom and it's going to climb over that barrier. It's going to knock it down. It's gonna push on it. It's gonna try to go around the side."

The girls' strategy? According to Lewis, they "get help
from another person." Interestingly, the female children got out from behind the barrier faster than the boys. They showed distress, and their mothers came and picked them up.

An Old Brain in a Modern Culture
The degree to which individuals' behaviour is determined by their physiological make-up remains a hotly debated question. Lewis points out that children grow up in a world that reinforces boy and girl differences-- through cartoons, commercials, clothing--and their behaviour as adults will be shaped by these social cues.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, a biologist at Brown University, thinks these external influences are so substantial that we shouldn't study the brain in isolation. "I balk at the notion that our brains are hard-wired," Fausto-Sterling said. "Our brains develop, and they develop new connections. So, you never have development outside of culture and experience," she said.

Fausto-Sterling, like Lewis, pointed out that children are bombarded with "heavily gendered messages." Fausto-Sterling said these messages "start earlier than we can imagine."

Some researchers say the perception that men excel in motor and spatial skills while women are stronger in the verbal department is not just an over-parodied stereotype. Evolutionary scientists claim it all began with our ancient ancestors.

Fisher said it all goes back to the hunter-gatherer days. Women needed verbal and emotional skills to cajole, educate and discipline their babies, while men needed spatial skills out on the hunt. "We've got an old brain in a very modern culture."

Beauty and the Brain
Differences in the way male and female brains work don't just affect our career choices or academic aptitudes, they control the way we perceive beauty, and they may affect how our bodies deal with stress and disease.

While romantics believe love comes from the heart, scientists know it starts with the brain. When the brain sees something it likes a very distinct message is transmitted throughout the body.

Researchers have learned that beauty taps into a part of the brain called the limbic system, which deals with craving and reward. Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a Harvard psychologist, has been studying how the brain responds to beauty.

She observed that the so-called reward area in men's brains lit up when they were shown pictures of beautiful women. The same reward circuitry is triggered for many different pleasures, researchers say. Some people will respond similarly to a good meal, cocaine will trigger the same reaction in addicts. When men were shown photos of attractive men, however, there was no activity in the
brain's reward centre at all.

Women responded differently to the photos. "They wanted to get a second look, not only at the beautiful men, but at the beautiful women," Etcofff said.

Complied by SYED AZAD
Souces: ABC News and Anatomy of Brain by Scott Brewmen.



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