I am so not kidding. Of course, knowledge is power. While this book will be of interest to anyone who wonders why men and women are so different, it will be particularly useful for women and parents of girls. This is going to be a bumpy ride. This book is not intended to take the place of medical advice from a trained med- ical professional.
Neither the publisher nor the author takes any responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action, or application of medicine, herb, or preparation to any person reading or following the information in this book. B I owe her the greatest debt of gratitude. I am especially grateful to Amy Hertz, vice president and publisher of Morgan Road Books, who had a vision for this project from the be- ginning and kept demanding excellence and crafting revisions to cre- ate a narrative in which the science comes alive.
I also want to thank my son, Whitney, who tolerated this long and demanding project with grace and made important contributions to the teen chapter. It puts the brakes on the amygdala. Larger in women, and matures faster in teen girls than in boys by one to two years.see
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I nsula: The center that processes gut feelings. Larger and more active in women. H ypothalamus: The conductor of the hormonal symphony; kicks the go- nads into gear.
Starts pumping earlier at puberty in females. A mygdala: The wild beast within; the instinctual core, tamed only by the PFC. Larger in men. P ituitary G land: Produces hormones of fertility, milk production, and nurturing behavior. Helps turn on the mommy brain. Testosterone —fast, assertive, focused, all-consuming, mascu- line; forceful seducer; aggressive, unfeeling; has no time for cud- dling. Vasopressin —secretive, in the background, subtle aggressive male energies; brother to testosterone, brother to oxytocin makes you want to connect in an active, male way, as does oxytocin.
Androstenedione —the mother of testosterone in the ovaries; supply of sassiness; high-spirited in youth, wanes at menopause, dies with the ovaries. They help guide nurturing, social, sexual, and aggressive behaviors. Out of the thirty thousand genes in the human genome, the less than one percent variation between the sexes is small. To the observing eye, the brains of females and males are not the same. Male brains are larger by about 9 percent, even after correcting for body size. In the nineteenth century, scientists took this to mean that women had less mental capacity than men.
Women and men, how- ever, have the same number of brain cells. The cells are just packed more densely in women—cinched corsetlike into a smaller skull. For much of the twentieth century, most scientists assumed that women were essentially small men, neurologically and in every other sense except for their reproductive functions.
When you look a little deeper into the brain differ- ences, they reveal what makes women women and men men. Until the s, researchers paid little attention to female physiol- ogy, neuroanatomy, or psychology separate from that of men. While enrolled at each of these in- stitutions, I learned little or nothing about female biological or neuro- logical difference outside of pregnancy. As a resident in psy- chiatry, I became fascinated by the fact that there was a two-to-one ra- tio of depression in women compared with men.
No one was offering any clear reasons for this discrepancy.
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Because I had gone to college at the peak of the feminist movement, my personal explanations ran toward the political and the psychological. I took the typical s stance that the patriarchy of Western culture must have been the cul- prit. It must have kept women down and made them less functional than men. I started to think that something bigger, more basic and biological, was going on. It appeared that the chemical changes at puberty did something in the brain to trigger more depression in women.
In all menstruating women, the female brain changes a little every day.
Some parts of the brain change up to 25 percent every month. Things get rocky at times, but for most women, the changes are manageable. These thoughts felt real and solid, and these women acted on them as though they were reality and would last forever—even though they arose solely from hormonal shifts in their brains. As soon as the tides changed, they were back to their best selves. Each hormone state—girlhood, the adolescent years, the dating years, motherhood, and menopause—acts as fertilizer for dif- ferent neurological connections that are responsible for new thoughts, emotions, and interests.
His is like a mountain that is worn away imperceptibly over the millennia by glaciers, weather, and the deep tectonic movements of the earth. Hers is more like the weather itself—constantly changing and hard to predict. New brain science has rapidly transformed our view of basic neu- rological differences between men and women. Earlier scientists could investigate these differences only by studying the brains of cadavers or the symptoms of individuals with brain damage. As a result, scientists have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional brain differ- ences between women and men.
They use differ- ent brain areas and circuits to solve problems, process language, expe- rience and store the same strong emotion. Brain struc- ture and chemistry have everything to do with why this is so. In a German study, researchers conducted brain scans of men and women while they mentally rotated abstract, three- dimensional shapes. This fact merely meant that it took women longer to get to the same answer. It also showed that females perform all the cognitive functions males perform—they just do so by using different brain circuits.
Under a microscope or an f MRI scan, the differences between male and female brains are revealed to be complex and widespread.
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In the brain centers for language and hearing, for example, women have 11 percent more neurons than men. The principal hub of both emotion and memory formation—the hippocampus—is also larger in the fe- male brain, as is the brain circuitry for language and observing emo- tions in others. This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events. Men, by contrast, have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive as well as larger brain centers for action and aggression.
Perhaps three to four times on her hottest days. These basic structural variances could explain perceptive differ- ences. One study scanned the brains of men and women observing a neutral scene of a man and a woman having a conversation. The female brains did not have any activation in the sexual areas. The female brains saw the situation as just two peo- ple talking. Men also have larger processors in the core of the most primitive area of the brain, which registers fear and triggers aggression—the amygdala. Though we live in the modern urban world, we inhabit bodies built to live in the wild, and each female brain still carries within it the ancient circuitry of her strongest foremothers, en- gineered for genetic success but retaining the deeply wired instincts developed in response to stress experienced in the ancient wild.
Our stress responses were designed to react to physical danger and life- threatening situations. Now couple that stress response with the mod- ern challenges of juggling the demands of home, kids, and work without enough support, and we have a situation in which women can perceive a few unpaid bills as a stress that appears to be life- threatening.
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This response impels the female brain to react as though the family were endangered by impending catastrophe. The male brain will not have the same perception unless the threat is of imme- diate, physical danger. These basic, structural variances in their brains lay the groundwork for many everyday differences in the behavior and life experiences of men and women.
Biological instincts are the keys to understanding how we are wired, and they are the keys to our success today. Without that recognition, biology becomes destiny and we will be helpless in the face of it. Biology does represent the foundation of our personalities and behavioral tendencies. The brain is nothing if not a talented learning machine. We can alter that reality and use our intelligence and determi- nation both to celebrate and, when necessary, to change the effects of sex hormones on brain structure, behavior, reality, creativity—and destiny.
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And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. At the same time, as testosterone takes over the male brain, boys grow less communicative and become obsessed about scoring—in games, and in the backseat of a car.
At the point when boys and girls begin deciding the trajectories of their careers, girls start to lose interest in pursuits that require more solitary work and fewer interactions with others, while boys can easily retreat alone to their rooms for hours of computer time. From an early age, my patient Gina had an extraordinary aptitude for math. She relished the mental puzzles involved in solving engineering problems, but she missed daily contact with people, so she was considering a career change.
These are value decisions that are actually shaped by hormonal effects on the female brain compelling connection and communication. All of this is hardwired into the brains of women. These are the talents women are born with that many men, frankly, are not.
Men are born with other talents, shaped by their own hormonal reality. It draws on my twenty years of clinical experi- ence as a neuropsychiatrist. It culls from spectacular advances in our understanding of genetics, molecular neuroscience, fetal and pediatric endocrinology, and neurohormonal development.
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It explores pri- matology, animal studies, and infant observation, seeking insights into how particular behaviors are programmed into the female brain by a combination of nature and nurture. We all know from experience that women and men can be astronauts, artists, CEOs, doctors, engineers, political leaders, parents, and child care providers. I have taken every opportunity to educate women and girls di- rectly about their unique brain-body-behavior system and help them to be their best at every age. On the verge of speaking in two- and three-word phrases, she mostly used her contagious smile and emphatic nods of her head to commu- nicate, and communicate she did.
So did the other little girls. There was a pint-size community forming, abuzz with chatter, games, and imaginary families. Leila was always happy to see her cousin Joseph when he joined her on the playground, but her joy never lasted long.