Research has shown that while men’s brains are larger than female brains, in actuality women’s brain cells are packed more tightly together so that the actual neuronal mass is quite comparable. Certain brain structures do differ. Men have larger amygdala ( the danger response center), while women have a larger cingulated cortex ( the area involved with evaluating the pros and cons of various decisions) .
Other differences exist in how the brain circuits respond to perceived threat:
- Women have a more focused response.
- Men respond to hostile threat with a more diffuse pattern of activation in the brain.
Recent research has also shown that there are different patterns of metabolism and production of key neurotransmitters in men and women.
Men create serotonin at a 52% higher rate than women. This finding may help explain why women may be more vulnerable to depression than men. Women’s slower production of this important neurotransmitter may make their neuron circuits more susceptible to stress.
Another interesting finding concerns differences in genetics.
Reports by Duman and others indicate that women have an increased likelihood of having a gene pattern associated with increased risk for Major Depressive Disorder. Men and women are each born with either long or short variations(allele) in their serotonin pump gene. Women are more likely than men to have two short alleles rather than one short/one long or two long. This pattern may make women more vulnerable to depression.
Next week: Gender and Depression – Psychosocial Factors