Men's and women's brains react differently when helping others, study says

Men's and women's brains react differently when helping others, study says

(CNN)There is pleasure in both giving and receiving. Does gender influence which of these pleasures we prefer?

In women, part of the brain showed a greater response when sharing money, while in men, the same structure showed more activity when they kept the cash for themselves, a small study published Monday in Nature Human Behavior found.

Searching the brain for answers

    Women tend to be more altruistic than men, previous studies have shown.

    As Philippe Tobler, co-author of the new study, sees it, "women put more subjective value on prosocial behavior and men find selfish behavior more valuable."

    "However, it was unknown how this difference comes about at the level of the brain," Tobler, an associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience at University of Zurich, wrote in an email. "But in both genders, the dopamine system encodes value."

    By "encode," he means the activity in our brain changes in proportion to the value we give social experiences.

    Searching for answers for why women and men are not equally selfish, he and his colleagues focused on the dopamine system.

    Dopamine, which plays a fundamental role in the brain's reward system, is released during moments of pleasure, yet it also helps us process our values. This mental ability transpires within the brain machinery known as the striatum. Latin for "striped," the striatum is threaded with fibers that receive and transmit signals from the cerebral cortex, the thalamus and other brain regions.

    Tobler and his colleagues designed a series of experiments to test how dopamine might influence the behavior of men and women. Fifty-six male and female participants made choices between sharing a financial reward with others or keeping the money for themselves.

    Given only a placebo before making decisions, women acted less selfishly than men, choosing to share their money with others. However, when their dopamine systems were disrupted after they received a drug called amisulpride, women acted more selfishly, while men became more generous. Amisulpride is an antipsychotic normally used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia.

    "Based on the opposing priorities of the genders, interfering with the dopamine system has opposing effects," Tobler said.

    In a second experiment, the researchers used functional MRI to investigate changes in the brain while eight female and nine male participants made choices. Compared with the males, the striatum in females showed more activity when they made a prosocial decision.

    According to Anne Z. Murphy, an associate professor of neuroscience at Georgia State University, other research has shown "that females are more prosocial. We find it more rewarding, and if you manipulate dopamine signaling in the brain, you can make females less prosocial and males less selfish." Murphy was not involved in the study.

    Still, she said, the study brings "greater awareness to the fact that there are brain differences in male and females."

    "It just shows, once again, that people can point to a biological basis for some of the characteristics that are prototypically male," Murphy said. These traits would include selfishness, self-promotion, generally, a hard-driving profile.

    "Now, you can point to another biological basis for it," she added, "And rather than using this knowledge to divide us, maybe we can use this to help make society a better place."

    For instance, she said, when women act in more altruistic ways, they shouldn't be regarded as less deserving than male colleagues who are more self-promoting.

    Gender differences in the brain may not be due to structural differences -- for example, variations in region size or shape based on sex, noted the researchers. Gender differences in the brain could be functional. This would mean a flood of the very same neurotransmitter -- dopamine -- might cause a very different response in women than in men.

    "It may be worth pointing out that the differences are likely to be learned," Tobler said.

    Though male and female tendencies may be learned, Murphy said, these behaviors are not acquired in a single lifetime.

    Men's and women's brains react differently when helping others, study says

    By Susan Scutti, CNN

     

    Updated 12:12 PM ET, Mon October 9, 2017

     

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    Get enough vitamin D – Recently it's been discovered that vitamin D can help support brain health, especially in seniors. People with low vitamin D levels experience more cognitive decline than those with normal levels. The vitamin also supports healthy blood vessel function and the growth and survival of neurons.

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    Read more fiction – Fiction novels might improve brain functions in several ways. A small study found that when you are engrossed in a novel, brain connectivity and function are enhanced. The neural changes that occur in the brain when reading put the reader into another person's shoes, and as a result, story comprehension improves.

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    Use your vacation days – Brains think more clearly when we're not overworking ourselves. By taking a break from work, you'll experience more "Aha" moments, since you're not using your brain to focus on endless tasks that lie ahead or dwelling on events that occurred in the past. But using your vacation for relaxation and not catching up on work is the key to mentally recharging.

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    Don't miss out on sleep – Sleep helps the brain consolidate memories and clear out waste. Lack of sleepcan affect your reaction time, your memory and how well you process information. Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke and speed up the aging process.

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    Avoid intense multitasking – It's actually impossible to do several different things at once, and multitaskingisn't good for the brain (PDF). It decreases mental performance and makes us worse at getting anything done. Focus on one task at a time, and take breaks. If you must take on more than one task, make sure you pair a task that requires less thinking with one that doesn't require as much, such as doing laundry while paying bills.

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    Get enough vitamin D – Recently it's been discovered that vitamin D can help support brain health, especially in seniors. People with low vitamin D levels experience more cognitive decline than those with normal levels. The vitamin also supports healthy blood vessel function and the growth and survival of neurons.

    Hide Caption

    5 of 8

     

    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Drink green tea – Tea has been around for 5,000 years, but new research suggests that drinking green tea can improve attention span and boost your brain for mentally challenging tasks. The caffeine in the beverage can also help with memory recall and processing.

    Hide Caption

    6 of 8

     

    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Challenge yourself – Exercising your mind with activities other than traditional "brain games" is a great way to build and maintain brain power. Working on a challenging new skill can give your brain a boost, or even changing your routine to stimulate learning through novelty.

    Hide Caption

    7 of 8

     

    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Read more fiction – Fiction novels might improve brain functions in several ways. A small study found that when you are engrossed in a novel, brain connectivity and function are enhanced. The neural changes that occur in the brain when reading put the reader into another person's shoes, and as a result, story comprehension improves.

    Hide Caption

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    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    How to keep your brain healthy – Scientists have learned more about the brain in the past 10 years than in all other time periods combined. Take a look at these discoveries to see how to improve your memory and boost your mental power.

    Hide Caption

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    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Use your vacation days – Brains think more clearly when we're not overworking ourselves. By taking a break from work, you'll experience more "Aha" moments, since you're not using your brain to focus on endless tasks that lie ahead or dwelling on events that occurred in the past. But using your vacation for relaxation and not catching up on work is the key to mentally recharging.

    Hide Caption

    2 of 8

     

    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Don't miss out on sleep – Sleep helps the brain consolidate memories and clear out waste. Lack of sleepcan affect your reaction time, your memory and how well you process information. Chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke and speed up the aging process.

    Hide Caption

    3 of 8

     

    Photos: Photos: Brain facts

    Avoid intense multitasking – It's actually impossible to do several different things at once, and multitaskingisn't good for the brain (PDF). It decreases mental performance and makes us worse at getting anything done. Focus on one task at a time, and take breaks. If you must take on more than one task, make sure you pair a task that requires less thinking with one that doesn't require as much, such as doing laundry while paying bills.

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    Story highlights

    • Women tend to be more altruistic than men, research has showed
    • When the dopamine system is disrupted, women behave more selfishly, study finds

    (CNN)There is pleasure in both giving and receiving. Does gender influence which of these pleasures we prefer?

    In women, part of the brain showed a greater response when sharing money, while in men, the same structure showed more activity when they kept the cash for themselves, a small study published Monday in Nature Human Behavior found.

    Searching the brain for answers

      Women tend to be more altruistic than men, previous studies have shown.

      As Philippe Tobler, co-author of the new study, sees it, "women put more subjective value on prosocial behavior and men find selfish behavior more valuable."

      "However, it was unknown how this difference comes about at the level of the brain," Tobler, an associate professor of neuroeconomics and social neuroscience at University of Zurich, wrote in an email. "But in both genders, the dopamine system encodes value."

      By "encode," he means the activity in our brain changes in proportion to the value we give social experiences.

       

      Are some brains hardwired for sexism?

      Searching for answers for why women and men are not equally selfish, he and his colleagues focused on the dopamine system.

      Dopamine, which plays a fundamental role in the brain's reward system, is released during moments of pleasure, yet it also helps us process our values. This mental ability transpires within the brain machinery known as the striatum. Latin for "striped," the striatum is threaded with fibers that receive and transmit signals from the cerebral cortex, the thalamus and other brain regions.

      Tobler and his colleagues designed a series of experiments to test how dopamine might influence the behavior of men and women. Fifty-six male and female participants made choices between sharing a financial reward with others or keeping the money for themselves.

      Given only a placebo before making decisions, women acted less selfishly than men, choosing to share their money with others. However, when their dopamine systems were disrupted after they received a drug called amisulpride, women acted more selfishly, while men became more generous. Amisulpride is an antipsychotic normally used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia.

      "Based on the opposing priorities of the genders, interfering with the dopamine system has opposing effects," Tobler said.

      In a second experiment, the researchers used functional MRI to investigate changes in the brain while eight female and nine male participants made choices. Compared with the males, the striatum in females showed more activity when they made a prosocial decision.

      According to Anne Z. Murphy, an associate professor of neuroscience at Georgia State University, other research has shown "that females are more prosocial. We find it more rewarding, and if you manipulate dopamine signaling in the brain, you can make females less prosocial and males less selfish." Murphy was not involved in the study.

       

      'Male brains' linked to higher autism risk in women, study says

      Still, she said, the study brings "greater awareness to the fact that there are brain differences in male and females."

      "It just shows, once again, that people can point to a biological basis for some of the characteristics that are prototypically male," Murphy said. These traits would include selfishness, self-promotion, generally, a hard-driving profile.

      "Now, you can point to another biological basis for it," she added, "And rather than using this knowledge to divide us, maybe we can use this to help make society a better place."

      For instance, she said, when women act in more altruistic ways, they shouldn't be regarded as less deserving than male colleagues who are more self-promoting.

      Gender differences in the brain may not be due to structural differences -- for example, variations in region size or shape based on sex, noted the researchers. Gender differences in the brain could be functional. This would mean a flood of the very same neurotransmitter -- dopamine -- might cause a very different response in women than in men.

      "It may be worth pointing out that the differences are likely to be learned," Tobler said.

      Though male and female tendencies may be learned, Murphy said, these behaviors are not acquired in a single lifetime.

      'Shaped by history'

      Instead, these preferences develop over time based on the differing roles of females and males: "reproduction versus resource-gathering," Murphy said.

      "You see similar behavior in rodents," she said, noting that female rats act in more altruistic ways than males. "It's evolutionarily conserved. It's shaped by history."

      The study has implications for drug research, Tobler noted.

      "Historically, medical drugs were often tested primarily on men and sometimes drugs have been found to be more effective in men than women," he wrote.

      Murphy explained that "preclinical studies have shown that females require approximately twice the amount of morphine than males to produce the same level of analgesia."

      All opiates that are metabolized in one specific way produce what is known as a "sexually dimorphic response," she added.

      "People are starting to look at whether cannabinoids are sexually dimorphic. It's been suggested that cannabinoids are more effective in females than in males," she said, with a lot of preclinical data showing this is the case.

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