1. Study suggests women just as willing to take risks as men

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Women can be just as risk-taking as men — or even more so — when the conventional macho measures of daring — such as betting vast sums on a football game — are replaced by less stereotypical criteria, according to new research led by the University of Exeter.

    Traditional barometers of high risk behaviour — such as betting a day’s wages at a high stakes poker game or riding a motorcycle without a helmet — are often stereotypically masculine. A team of psychologists — Dr Thekla Morgenroth and Professor Michelle Ryan from the University of Exeter and Professor Cordelia Fine and Anna Genat from the University of Melbourne -devised a new measure of risk-taking including activities that women might more typically pursue such as going horseback riding or making risky purchases online.

    They found that research and surveys about risk behaviour has reinforced cultural assumptions about who takes risks. Assessments of heroism, daring or audacity often focus on traditionally masculine behaviour such as gambling or skydiving. When this bias is addressed, women and men rate themselves as equally likely to take risks.

    The findings of the study, published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, raises fresh questions about whether risk-taking is overwhelmingly a masculine personality trait, and whether women are as risk averse as previously suggested.

    Dr Thekla Morgenroth, post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, and lead author of the paper said: “When people imagine a risk-taker, they might picture someone risking their fortune at a high-stakes poker game, an ambitious CEO, or someone crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope — but chances are that the person they picture will be a man. In other words, in our culture, risk is strongly associated with masculinity — and our research shows that this also biases how scientists measure risk.”

    Dr Morgenroth went on to say:

    “Traditional measures of risk-taking tend to overlook the fact that women take many risks all the time — they go horseback riding, they challenge sexism, they are more likely to donate their kidneys to family members. In our research, we show that when you ask men and women how likely they are to take more feminine risks, the gender difference in risk-taking suddenly disappears or even reverses with women reporting slightly higher levels of risk-taking. We’ve been overlooking female risk-taking because our measures have been biased.”

    Co-author Professor Cordelia Fine, whose book Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds, was this week awarded the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017, added:

    “Even when we matched the level of physical or financial risk, we found that the choice of risky activity — masculine, or more neutral or feminine — makes a difference to the conclusion about which gender is more risk-taking.”

    The academics surveyed a total of 238 people in two studies using traditional measures of risk and new questions which included more activities which were rated as feminine by a group of 99 men and women.

    When stereotypically masculine criteria such as gambling at a casino or going white-water rafting were used, men rated themselves as more likely to engage in risk-taking. However, when new behaviour was included, such as taking a cheerleading class or cooking an impressive but difficult meal for a dinner party, women rated themselves as equally or more likely to take risks.

    Co-author Prof Michelle Ryan noted: “Understanding the nature of gender differences in risk taking is particularly important as the assumption that women are risk averse is often used to justify ongoing gender inequality — such as the gender pay gap and women’s under-representation in politics and leadership.”


  2. Study looks at gender differences in reactions to prosocial behaviour

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Zurich press release:

    Behavioral experiments have shown that women share a sum of money more generously than men. To gain a more in-depth understanding of this behavior, neuroscientists from the Department of Economics looked at the areas of the brain that are active when decisions of this kind are made. They are the first to demonstrate that the brains of men and women respond differently to prosocial and selfish behavior.

    Selfish behavior activates reward system more strongly in men

    The striatum, located in the middle of the brain, is responsible for the assessment of reward and is active whenever a decision is made. The findings show: The striatum was more strongly activated in female brains during prosocial decisions than during selfish decisions. By contrast, selfish decisions led to a stronger activation of the reward system in male brains.

    Disrupted reward system leads to more selfish behavior in women

    In the second experiment, the reward system was disrupted by administering medication to the participants. Under these conditions, women behaved more selfishly, while men became more prosocial. The latter result surprised the researchers. As Soutschek explains, “these results demonstrate that the brains of women and men also process generosity differently at the pharmacological level.” The results also have consequences for further brain research, with Soutschek stating that “future studies need to take into account gender differences more seriously.”

    Culturally conditioned behavior patterns are decisive

    Even if these differences are evident at the biological level, Soutschek warns against assuming that they must be innate or of evolutionary origin. “The reward and learning systems in our brains work in close cooperation. Empirical studies show that girls are rewarded with praise for prosocial behavior, implying that their reward systems learn to expect a reward for helping behavior instead of selfish behavior. With this in mind, the gender differences that we observed in our studies could best be attributed to the different cultural expectations placed on men and women.” This learning account is also supported by findings that indicate significant differences in the sensitivity of the reward system to prosocial and selfish behavior across cultures.


  3. Study suggests gender differences in financial risk tolerance linked to different response to income uncertainty

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    Prior research has long shown that women are, on average, less risk tolerant in their financial decisions than men. This is a concern as investors with low levels of risk tolerance might have greater difficulty reaching their financial goals and building adequate retirement wealth because they are unlikely to invest in stocks. Now, a researcher from the University of Missouri has found that men and women do not think about investment risks differently. Instead, income uncertainty affects men and women differently, which leads to differences in risk tolerance.

    “Risk tolerance is one of the most important factors that contributes to wealth accumulation and retirement,” said Rui Yao, an associate professor of personal financial planning in the MU College of Health and Environmental Sciences. “It is important to understand what causes women to be less risk tolerant so that financial planners can better serve their needs as women, on average, live longer than men and often need more retirement savings.”

    For her study, Yao examined data from the Survey of Consumer Finances. The survey is conducted every three years and supported by the Federal Reserve and U.S. Department of the Treasury. By analyzing data from nearly 2,250 unmarried American individuals, Yao found that women are more likely to have uncertain incomes from year to year. Life events such as child birth, child care and care-giving often contribute to women’s income uncertainty.

    Yao also found that, on average, women had lower net worth than men. This may have resulted, in part, from women keeping funds in accounts with low returns to buffer the risk of negative income shocks.

    One-quarter of women and one-fifth of men in the sample reported using a financial planner for saving and investment decisions, but the advice given to women may not be in their best interest. Yao suggests that financial planners need to understand the differences in income uncertainty and net worth between men and women and the way in which these differences relate to risk tolerance.

    “Simply telling women to be more risk tolerant is ineffective,” Yao said. “In fact, it might encourage women to take more financial risks than they can tolerate, which could lead to more problems in the future. The difference in investment advice received by men and women requires further investigation, particularly given the new fiduciary standards for financial advisors.”

    Yao’s advice to women is to plan for income uncertainty by creating a financial strategy that fits their needs. For example, when anticipating child-rearing or care-giving periods in the near future, women can and should be more conservative in their investing. When those periods are coming to an end, women should work with their financial planners to make riskier investments.


  4. Mouse study suggests brain structures controlling sexual and aggressive behavior are wired differently in the sexes

    September 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine press release:

    Brain structures that control sexual and aggressive behavior in mice are wired differently in females than in males. This the finding of a study led by scientists at NYU School of Medicine and published online Sept. 18 in Nature Neuroscience.

    Specifically, researchers found that, while control of aggressive behavior resides in same brain region in female and male mice, certain groups of brain cells in that region are organized differently. Two separate groups of cells were found to control sex and aggression in females, whereas circuits that encourage sex and aggression in males overlapped, say the study authors.

    Knowing how aggressive behaviors are regulated is important because they are essential to survival in mice, as well as in humans, which have evolved to compete for food, mates, and territory, researchers say.

    “Our study furthers our understanding of how these behaviors are organized differently in female and male mice brains,” says study senior investigator Dayu Lin, PhD, an assistant professor at the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Health.

    Having a detailed breakdown of brain functions by gender, Lin adds, is a “fundamental step” toward any future attempt to develop drugs that suppress extreme aggression in humans. She says research on female aggressive behavior has lagged because, in most animals, males are the more aggressive gender.

    Original research by Lin and her team, published in Nature in 2011, was among the first to trace the origins of male aggression in mice to a distinct part of the hypothalamus, the brain region that controls body temperature, hunger, sleep, and levels of many hormones. This key part, the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus, or VMHvl, is located on the underside of the hypothalamus in mice and humans.

    Other, recent studies that had blocked the action VMHvl cells in female mouse brains failed to trace the source of aggression control to the VMHvl. This blockade did stop all male and female attempts to mate, but did not reduce fighting among females, says Lin.

    She says these other studies — having used a mouse type known for timidity — did not accurately replicate natural conditions. The current study was made more realistic by including a naturally aggressive mouse strain, as well as female virgin mice eager to fight off competitors for food, and new mothers anxious to protect their pups, say the authors.

    The current study monitored the brain activity of the virgin and mother mice during fights with any female or male mouse that had entered their boxed space. The brains of all study mice were tested with electrical, genetic, or chemical probes that measured which nerve cells were turned on or off, and how this affected their fighting behavior. Researchers found that, under these more realistic conditions, turning VMHvl cells on or off did control whether female mice would fight. Researchers also monitored in males and females the activity of individual cells in the VMHvl with proteins that enable them to interact with the sex hormones (e.g. estrogen receptor alpha). Such cells had previously been linked to fighting behaviors in male mice.

    Experiments showed that VMHvl cells actively transmitting signals, or “firing,” while females were mating were not the same cells firing when they were fighting. But in male mice, many of the same cells were firing during both activities. Further analysis showed that males had a mixed spatial distribution of the VMHvl cells involved in either behavior. In females, the cells involved in fighting were arranged along the center of the VMHvl, while those involved in mating were distributed along its borders.

    Lin says her laboratory next plans to fine-tune tools for experimenting separately on the female mating and fighting VMHvl cells. She says her team also has plans to investigate the biological origins of these cells to determine how the female nerve circuity develops in contrast to the circuitry in males.


  5. What makes alcoholics drink? Research shows it’s more complex than supposed

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    What makes alcoholics drink? New research has found that in both men and women with alcohol dependence, the major factor predicting the amount of drinking seems to be a question of immediate mood. They found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression; surprisingly those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.

    “This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher, Victor Karpyak (Mayo Clinic, MN, USA). “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer; this will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”

    The work, presented at the ECNP congress by researchers from the Mayo Clinic*, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM); they were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression (MDD) or substance abuse.

    The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women. As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders. However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days (p=0.0084), and fewer heavy drinking days (p=0.0214) than men who never a major depressive disorder.

    Victor Karpyak continued: “Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety. However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.

    This work will need to be replicated and confirmed, but from what we see here, it means that the reasons why alcoholics drink depend on their background as well as the immediate circumstances. There is no single reason. And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual. It also means that our treatment approach may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism (craving or consumption) and the alcoholic patient (i.e. man or a woman) with or without depression or anxiety history to allow really effective treatment.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam) said:

    “This is indeed a very important issue. Patients with an alcohol use disorder often show a history of other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, they also often present with alcohol induced anxiety and mood disorders and finally the may report mood symptoms that do not meet criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder (due to a failure to meet the minimal number of criteria or a duration of less than two weeks). All these different conditions may influence current levels or patterns of drinking.

    The current study seems to show that the current presence of mood/anxiety symptoms is associated with more drinking in both male and female alcoholics, whereas a clinical history of major depression in male alcoholics is associated with lower current dinking levels. Although, the study does not provide a clear reason for this difference, it may have consequences for treatment. For example, antidepressant treatment of males with a history major depression may have no effect on drinking levels. However, these findings may also result from residual confounding, e.g. patients with a history of major depression might also be patients with a late age of onset of their alcohol use disorder and this type of alcohol use disorder is associated with a different pattern of drinking with more daily drinking and less heavy drinking days and less binging. More prospective studies are needed to resolve this important but complex clinical issue.”


  6. Heavy alcohol use alters brain functioning differently in young men and women

    September 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    Scientists have found that brain functions in young men and women are changed by long-term alcohol use, but that these changes are significantly different in men and women. This indicates not only that young people might be at increased risk of long-term harm from alcohol use, but also that the risks are probably different in men and in women, with men possibly more at risk. This work is presented today at the ECNP meeting in Paris.

    A Finnish research group worked with 11 young men and 16 young women who had a heavy 10-year alcohol use, and compared them with 12 young men and 13 young women who had little or no alcohol use. All were between 23 to 28 years old at the time the measurements were taken. The researchers examined the responses of the brain to being stimulated by magnetic pulses — known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which activates brain neurons. The brain activity was measured using EEG (electroencephalogram).

    Previously, the researchers had found that heavy alcohol users showed a greater electrical response in the cortex of the brain than non-alcohol users, which indicates that there had been long-term changes to how the brain responds. This time, they found that young men and young women responded differently, with males showing a greater increase in electrical activity in the brain in response to a TMS pulse. As researcher Dr Outi Kaarre (University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital, Finland) said:

    “We found more changes in brain electrical activity in male subjects, than in females, which was a surprise, as we expected it would be the other way around. This means that male brain electrical functioning is changed more than female brains by long-term alcohol use.”

    The EEGs also allowed the researchers to show that male brains have greater electrical activity associated with the GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) neurotransmission than do female brains.

    Dr Kaarre continued, “Generally, our work showed that alcohol causes more pronounced changes in both electrical and chemical neurotransmission in men than women. There are two types of GABA receptors, A and B. Long-term alcohol use affects neurotransmission through both types in males, but only one type, GABA-A, is affected in females.

    We’re still trying to figure out what this means, but GABA is a pretty fundamental neurotransmitter in the inhibition of many brain and central nervous systems functions. It’s involved in many neurological systems, and is important in anxiety and depression. Generally it seems to calm down brain activity.

    We know from animal studies that GABA-A receptor activity seems to affect drinking patterns, whereas GABA-B receptors seem to be involved in overall desire for alcohol. It has been suggested that women and men may respond differently to alcohol. Our work offers a possible mechanism to these differences.”

    We know that long-term alcohol use can be risky for young people. What this work means is that long-term alcohol use affects young men and women very differently, and we need to find out how these differences manifest themselves. It may be that we need to look at tightening regulations on youth drinking, since none of our study participants met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorders and still these significant changes in brain functioning were found. It may also mean that gender differences should be taken into account when planning pharmacological treatment for alcoholism.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, and ex Chair of the ECNP Scientific Programme Committee):

    “These are very interesting findings, especially since young women are catching up with young men when it comes to drinking and heavy drinking in Europe. This may also mean that a different group of women is getting involved in early heavy alcohol use than used to be the case; in other words, when heavy drinking occurs more frequently and tends to become the norm, women do not need to have some aberrant personal characteristic to become an early heavy user of alcohol.

    The finding of a different EEG-pattern in male and female early heavy drinkers may indeed have important consequences for the treatment of male and female patients with an alcohol use disorder. One of the most recent new medications for the treatment of alcohol dependence is the GABA-B agonist Baclofen, which has shown mixed results which may be explained by this work.

    A limitation of the study is that it says nothing about possible pre-existing neurobiological differences between the groups, an explanation for the observed differences that is equally valid.”


  7. So-called ‘bright girl effect’ does not last into adulthood, study finds

    September 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    The notion that young females limit their own progress based on what they believe about their intelligence — called the “bright girl effect” — does not persist into adulthood, according to new research from Case Western Reserve University.

    The study also found almost no relationship between gender and intelligence “mindset,” which refers to a person’s beliefs about his or her own intellectual potential.

    According to mindset theory — developed by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University — some people have “growth” mindsets while others have “fixed” mindsets.

    A growth mindset, considered a positive trait, is more likely to lead a person to try to overcome challenges, believing intelligence can improve with effort.

    Fixed mindsets, often seen as a negative, are more likely to lead people to avoid difficult tasks and assume failure is due to intelligence levels that cannot be changed.

    Because girls are thought to mature earlier than boys, according to mindset theory, they are often praised for their attributes — how they “are.” More of this type of praise is given to “bright” girls, which leads them to believe their cognitive abilities are more or less set in stone.

    Published in the journal Intelligence, the new research found little indication such a phenomenon exists in adult women.

    “Overall, we saw no reliable evidence for a relationship between women’s intelligence and their mindsets,” said Brooke Macnamara, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve and co-author of the study. “Our results do not support the idea that men and women differ in their beliefs about intelligence.”

    The findings run contrary to some cornerstones of the mindset field: that females, especially smarter females, tend to believe their intelligence levels are static, and that differences in childhood praise given to boys and girls can heavily influence a person’s later beliefs about their own intelligence.

    The study

    In three studies, nearly 400 total participants were given an intelligence test and a measure developed by Dweck that discerns a person’s attitudes toward the plasticity of their own intelligence and talent.

    They were asked, for example, how much they agreed with such statements as, You can always substantially change how intelligent you are, and No matter who you are, you can significantly change your level of intelligence.

    The studies are among the first to investigate three factors among adults: measured intelligence, intelligence mindset, and gender.

    Evidence for the bright girl effect is mostly based on three academic studies conducted with children and adolescents from the 1980’s.

    “These studies help fill in gaps in the mindset research,” said Macnamara. “Some past research has suggested a ‘bright girl effect’ — gender differences among children. However, a ‘bright woman effect’ — gender differences among adults — seemed to be an untested assumption. Across our studies, there were no consistent relationships among intelligence, mindset and gender. Our research did not support the idea of a ‘bright woman effect.'”


  8. Links between parents’ earnings, gender roles, mental health

    August 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s suggested that women and men would have equal shots at happiness — whether they were their families’ primary breadwinners or stay-at-home parents.

    However, the reality has been far more nuanced for many families in the U.S. And new research out of the University of Illinois suggests that some mothers’ and fathers’ psychological well-being may suffer when their work and family identities — and the amount of financial support they provide — conflict with conventional gender roles.

    Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak found that when women’s paychecks increased to compose the majority of their families’ income, these women reported more symptoms of depression.

    However, Kramer and Pak found the opposite effect in men: Dads’ psychological well-being improved over time when they became the primary wage-earners for their families.

    The data sample comprised more than 1,463 men and 1,769 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. A majority of the individuals in the study, all born between 1957 and 1965, were members of the baby-boom generation. Participants’ psychological well-being was measured in 1991 and 1994 using a seven-item scale that assessed their levels of depressive symptoms.

    Kramer and Pak found that although women’s psychological well-being was not affected by exiting the workforce to become stay-at-home moms, men’s mental health declined when they stayed home to care for the kids.

    “We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study,” said Kramer, who is a professor of human development and family studies.

    “The results supported the overarching hypothesis: Well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations.”

    While women’s educational and career opportunities have multiplied in recent decades, societal norms and expectations about gendered divisions of labor in the workplace and the home have been slower to evolve, according to the researchers.

    Mothers and fathers who deviate from conventional gender roles — such as dads who leave the workforce to care for their children full time — may be perceived negatively, potentially impacting their mental health, Kramer and Pak wrote.

    The researchers also explored whether parents who held more egalitarian ideas about men’s and women’s responsibilities as wage earners and caretakers for their families fared better — and Kramer and Pak found gender differences there as well.

    Women in the study who viewed themselves and their spouses as equally responsible for financially supporting their families and caring for their homes and offspring experienced better mental health when their wages and share of the family’s income increased.

    However, regardless of their beliefs, men’s mental health took a hit when their earnings as a proportion of the family income shrank — suggesting perhaps that “work identity and (the) traditional role of primary earner are still critical for men, even when they have more egalitarian gender ideology,” the researchers wrote.

    Kramer is to present the paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 12-15 in Montreal.

    Pak is a doctoral student at Illinois.


  9. Study suggests strong friendships among women in the workplace reduce conflict

    August 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences press release:

    According to a new study in the INFORMS journal Organization Science, when employers foster an office environment that supports positive, social relationships between women coworkers, especially in primarily male dominated organizations, they are less likely to experience conflict among women employees.

    The study, “Gender and Negative Work Ties: Exploring Difficult Work Relationships Within and Across Gender at Two Firms” was conducted by Jenifer Merluzzi of George Washington University.

    Merluzzi surveyed 145 management-level employees regarding workplace dynamics at two large U.S. firms that were primarily male-dominated environments, with women representing less than one-third of the workforce and under 15 percent of the senior management.

    The study author found that, while men and women are equally likely to cite having a difficult co-worker, compared to men, women are more likely to cite another woman as a difficult coworker than they are to cite a man, or not cite anyone. However, this tendency is reduced among women who cite having more women coworkers for social support and friendship at work. Knowing that unique gendered network characteristics such as the gender compositions of an employee’s social support at work were associated with negative ties can help organizational leaders anticipate potential trouble spots within their firms where gendered conflict may erupt.

    “While gender diversity and inequality are well document topics in management, sociology and labor economics, few have looked closely at the gendered negative relationships within the workplace from a social relationship perspective,” said Merluzzi. “Understanding the relational side of conflict also bears practical importance as companies increasingly organize using diverse teams, heightening the reliance on informal ties between and within gender to get work accomplished.”


  10. Study looks at gender differences in neurological effect of depression

    July 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    When researchers in the UK exposed depressed adolescents to happy or sad words and imaged their brains, they found that depression has different effects on the brain activity of male and female patients in certain brain regions. The findings suggest that adolescent girls and boys might experience depression differently and that sex-specific treatments could be beneficial for adolescents.

    Men and women appear to suffer from depression differently, and this is particularly striking in adolescents. By 15 years of age, girls are twice as likely to suffer from depression as boys. There are various possible reasons for this, including body image issues, hormonal fluctuations and genetic factors, where girls are more at risk of inheriting depression. However, differences between the sexes don’t just involve the risk of experiencing depression, but also how the disorder manifests and its consequences.

    “Men are more liable to suffer from persistent depression, whereas in women depression tends to be more episodic,” explains Jie-Yu Chuang, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, and an author on the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. “Compared with women, depressed men are also more likely to suffer serious consequences from their depression, such as substance abuse and suicide.” Despite this, so far, most researchers have focused on depression in women, likely because it is more common.

    This motivated Chuang and her colleagues to carry out this latest study to find differences between depressed men and women. They recruited adolescent volunteers for the study, who were aged between 11 and 18 years. This included 82 female and 24 male patients who suffered from depression, and 24 female and 10 male healthy volunteers. The researchers imaged the adolescents’ brains using magnetic resonance imaging, while flashing happy, sad or neutral words on a screen in a specific order.

    The volunteers pressed a button when certain types of words appeared and did not press the button when others appeared, and the researchers measured their brain activity throughout the experiment. When the researchers flashed certain combinations of words on the screen, they noticed that depression affects brain activity differently between boys and girls in brain regions such as the supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate.

    So, what do these results mean? “Our finding suggests that early in adolescence, depression might affect the brain differently between boys and girls,” explains Chuang. “Sex-specific treatment and prevention strategies for depression should be considered early in adolescence. Hopefully, these early interventions could alter the disease trajectory before things get worse.”

    The brain regions highlighted in the study have been previously linked to depression, but further work is needed to understand why they are affected differently in depressed boys, and if this is related to how boys experience and handle depression.

    Because depression is more common in girls, the researchers were not able to recruit as many boys in this study, and future experiments should compare similar numbers of girls and boys for more representative results. Chuang and her colleagues would like to explore this phenomenon further. “I think it would be great to conduct a large longitudinal study addressing sex differences in depression from adolescence to adulthood.”