Tag Archives: evolution

The Male Brain: Demystifying the Divinely Devised Differences

Male Brain. While women don’t often understand or agree, men have—since the dawn of time—had different instincts, emotions, and approaches to situations. Although these approaches can (arguably) be questionable, the varying innate reactions are simply different than those of women: not better, not worse. While both sexes come with their own strengths and weaknesses, we have to wonder: what biological structures underlie the instincts and actions of the male brain? Why are there differences between the male brain and the female brain? And how do the neurophysiological structures within the male brain attribute to the behavior we see in everyday life? Find out more below. 

Male Brain

The Male Brain

Historically, social differences between men and women centralized around physical characteristics and social constructs that defined each gender. As our modern society has progressed to challenge the social roles and labels that have, for centuries, defined men and women, research over the past twenty years has zeroed in on sex-based differences that classify neurological differences between the sexes. While the emerging biological discoveries underline the strengths and weaknesses of both the male and female brain, the overarching goal of research aims to emphasize the divine differences that distinguish sexes—rather than imply inferiority—to better understand how anatomical differences influence behavioral differences between sexes.

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While the natural behavioral tendencies of both males and females seem to be unpredictable and bewildering, understanding the neurophysiological dissimilarities between sexes links behavioral differences to a structural root. Although, at times, it seems as though the men and women are from two entirely different planets—as the saying goes:

“men are from Mars, women are from Venus”

Understanding the male brain is fundamental for discovering the neurological and behavioral differences that distinguish the innate tendencies people have based on their biology.

The Male Brain: How It All Started

As a trailblazer in the investigation of behavioral differences between sexes, Nirao Shah, spearheaded research to biological differences in 1998 as he began his postdoctoral fellowship.  While Shah observed the behaviors essential for the survival of each sex, he investigated how this innate behavior is biologically wired in the brain. He hoped to find the root of behaviors by identifying neuronal circuitry unique to each sex, he has since inspired researchers to unearth the inherent differences that distinguish the male brain from its female counterpart.

The Male Brain: Structural and Functional Differences

A Question of Grey Matter and White Matter in the Male Brain

The most obvious difference between the male and female brain is the distinctly larger crania of males. Due to the proportionally larger body size of males, larger craniums allow for a larger brain to develop amongst male brains. While the presence of a larger brains lacks correlation for heightened intelligence, a fundamental size difference is present between the male and female brain.

As research has found that the male and female brain are wired differently, it has been determined that the male brain operates on intrahemispheric communication, contrasting that of the female brain which optimally operates through inter-hemispheric communication. This insinuates that the male brain has stronger connections within a single region of the brain, whereas females have stronger connections between the left and right hemispheres. While this puzzling difference seems to be without reason, the cellular composition of brain tissue accounts for the wiring that makes the male brain unique.

As a result of an MRI study at the University of Pennsylvania, it has been confirmed that male brains have higher percentages of white matter. Found within the cerebellum, which is split into the right and left hemisphere, two types of tissue of the central nervous system are found: grey matter and white matter. The outer layer of the cerebellum, composed of grey matter folds, is made up of tightly packed dendrites, cell bodies, and axon terminals.

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These tightly folded regions are specialized to regulate memory, language, perceptual awareness, and attention—ultimately containing the synapses that communicate messages. White matter, in contrast, is made up of axons—connecting grey matter to one another—creating a fast communication network, like a metro system. White matter makes up important structures, like the thalamus and hypothalamus, which ultimately relay information from the body to the cerebellum.

Together, these tissues work to allow the white matter to communicate between grey matter areas, and for the grey matter to communicate with the rest of the body. While the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania speculated that the higher volumes of white matter are found amongst larger brains because of the further distance for information transference, the research team concluded that the greater amounts of grey matter amongst the female brain facilitates inter-hemispherical computation of information in a smaller amount of space (e.g. a smaller brain).

During development, the male brain is structured to increase activity and connectivity within each hemisphere by creating communication networks that are modular and direct. While this within-hemispheric processing allows linkage of perception to action along the posterior tract of the cerebellum, it also allows the mediation of motor action ipsilaterally. By way of strong within-hemispheric processing and connectivity, the divinely designed male brain allows for strong coordination of actions in males.

As research and functional imaging have suggested, white matter tracts are activated while working memory is in use. Because of the high percentage of white matter within the male brain, it comes as no surprise that men are better equipped to juggle items within their working memory.

The Male Brain and the Corpus Callosum

The Bridge of the Brain

Extending from the University of Pennsylvania study in 2014, the corpus callosum—a white matter cable that connects the right and left hemisphere—is smaller in the male brain. This also led to the observation of heightened bilateral symmetry amongst the brain in females compared to males: as communication between hemispheres increases, greater symmetry in muscle tissue arises. From these observations, the larger corpus callosum in the female brain can account for the greater inter-hemispherical communication observed in females, and why, biologically, the male brain tends to reflect the success of intrahemispheric communication. This anatomical explanation helps debunk why men are easily frustrated when asked to multitask: because the female brain allows multiple tasks and an abundance of information to flow simultaneously, the smaller corpus callosum in men inhibits the same task juggling ability that the female brain facilitates.

The Male Brain and the Limbic System

The Emotions of a Man

Areas of the Brain

Comprised of the hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and various other surrounding areas, the limbic system is heavily involved in emotional regulation. In an issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, which was solely dedicated to sex differences within the nervous system, Larry Cahill discussed how the amygdala in the male brain—which experiences and recalls emotional events—is larger than the amygdala in the female brain. Even as infants, MRI research shows that the male brain has higher activity within the limbic system than the female brain. While men are often stereotyped as “unemotional creatures,” this natural, anatomical difference supports the idea that men are, in fact, more emotional than women, but nurture leads to the masking of emotional expression.

Thought to attribute to learning differences between sexes, neurochemical and anatomical differences between the hippocampi of men and women have also been discovered. Contrasting the left hippocampus activation in females, the right hippocampus has increased activation in the male brain; these findings suggest that when presented tasks that require cognitive thinking, males use fewer verbal strategies than women.

Additionally, despite the stereotype that men think about sex more than women, the limbic system— specifically, the hypothalamus—is responsible for this biological drive for sexual pursuit. While the hypothalamus within the male brain is nearly two and a half times larger than the female brain’s hypothalamus, testosterone fertilizing the Y gene (aka the male gene) attributes to this size discrepancy. This is why males report thinking about sex three times more often than females. While this research serves as a biological basis of male behavior, it does not negate an ability to learn to be civil and controlled. (Just because a man has an urge to act, it doesn’t mean he can’t control it!)

The Male Brain and Visuospatial Skills

The male brain tends to surpass the skills of the female brain when it comes to visuospatial skills that allow them to analyze and mentally manipulate objects. Seen from early stages of development, the superior visuospatial abilities of the male brain exceeds the female brain’s ability when it comes time to track moving objects, aim projectiles at targets, and visualize the rotation of two- or three-dimensional objects. While females exceed at other tasks, such as recalling word lists, the differing brain development between sexes explains the heightened accuracy of males in certain skills, such as spatial tasks and motor skills. In everyday life, these surpassing abilities can be seen in navigational skills: males better calculate their position by direction and relative distance traveled, whereas the female brain relies on landmarks to distinguish location.

The Male Brain and Chemical Differences

While we often attribute the prominence of aggression amongst males with their increased levels of testosterone, there are a variety of uses of testosterone throughout the body. Notably, testosterone, in the male brain, impairs impulse-control and ignites libido. While so many questions where they stand with their partner when they see him checking out the supermodel walking by, rest assure that it is just biology at play! Because of the dampened impulse control and revved libido, it makes it harder for men to suppress their impulse to scope the gorgeous woman walking by.

Questionably unfaithful behavior can also be attributed to the presence of the hormone vasopressin. In a study of mole rats, a species containing the vasopressin gene were more monogamous and committed than their cousin species: the cousin species of mole rats that lacked the vasopressin gene were more promiscuous. When the vasopressin gene was injected into the brain of the promiscuous mole rat, the transient tendencies subsided and the mole rats became monogamous. While we are not claiming that men are (always) like rats, a higher presence of vasopressin in the male brain is attributed to more committed, faithful relationships.

While it often seems that male behavior is dominated by their natural abundance of testosterone, the male brain changes when they become a dad-to-be. Similar to the changing chemicals of an expecting mother’s brain, the male brain decreases testosterone and increases bonding hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin, ultimately equipping them with more bonding hormones to make them better dads.

In terms of stressful situations, male brains have a unique increase of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the basolateral amygdala, while female brains don’t. In the onset of stress exposure, chemical levels change within the male brain, particularly influencing the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are associated with spatial and nonspatial memory. This helps to explain why the onset of stressful situations impairs the male brain’s ability of object recognition.

The Male Brain is Different From the Female Brain: Why?

Biologically speaking, the male brain has different sex-steroid hormones than women’s. While females have high levels of estrogen and progesterone, males are dominated by testosterone and androgens. During in-utero development, the male brain becomes heavily influenced by the high levels of testosterone, which are responsible for their masculine body plan; while this naturally attributes to physical characteristics, the surging testosterone naturally shapes the brain, too. Regions, like the amygdala and hippocampus, have an abundance of receptors specific for sex hormones, explaining why these regions differ in size between the male brain and the female brain.

In terms of evolution, researchers break down the neural differences as a result of adaptation to the actions of neurotransmitters and hormones that appease our sense organs and brain. As the female brain has adapted to childbearing and education, the female brain is better adapted for verbal sharing and communication. Evolutionarily, the male brain, in contrast, is adapted for hunting and fighting; as men roamed the land for hunting, their silent pursuits and navigational skills required heightened visuospatial skills and a decreased need for verbal sharing.

Although some behaviors of men are confusing and, at times, unforgivable, nature has equipped men with biological predispositions that are simply different from those of females. Debunking the differences between the biological structures of the male and female brain helps to understand what motivates behaviors. Although testosterone fuels the male brain to strive for sexual pursuit, differing structures between the male and female brain attribute to functional and behavioral differences. While subtle deviations are seen anatomically between the male and female brain, the emerging research of sex-based neurological differences attempts to explain how the male brain approaches life.

Consider checking out an in-depth look at the female brain and how the structural differences result in different behaviors.

Feel free to comment below!

References

Madhura, l., Alex, S., Drew, P., Theodore D., S., Mark A., E., Kosha, R., & … Ragini, V. (2014). Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, (2), 823.

Goldman, Bruce, and Gérard DuBois. “Two Minds: How Men’s and Women’s Brains Are Different.” Stanford Medicine, stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-women’s-brains-are-different.html.

Experimental Psychology: Learn everything about its history

The field of experimental psychology branches out into many various sub-fields and directions with people believing in various things. Even now scientists do not have a clear picture of the connection between the mind and the body. There have been many different attempts to unravel and end the dilemma. Understanding even the majority of the connection and the brain by itself will be a major development in today’s science. The attempt has brought on many big collaborative initiatives with big names like the Human Brain Project coming to mind. Psychology in itself has had a long history and has shaped itself in various ways and directions. To understand it, one needs to look at the first mentions of what we now call psychology from centuries ago.

Experimental Psychology

History of Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology today is completely different from what the discipline looked like years and centuries ago.  Back then we didn’t have the technology and the infrastructure available to us today. The question of mind and body was on the lips of many prominent philosophers. Names like Plato and Aristotle come to mind when the first mentions of the mind-body problem arise. The arguments and debates over free will and determinism and nature vs. nurture take roots centuries ago. These debates are still prevalent nowadays. They turn into years long research projects in the fields of experimental psychology and neuroscience.

Philosophical beginnings: nature vs. nurture & free will vs. determinism

Famous philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and René Descartes made the first references to experimental psychology. Plato and Aristotle both contemplated the famous nature vs. nurture question. They disagreed on the fundamental point of the origin of what makes us human comes from. Plato argued from the genetic point of view, saying that certain things are a part of our biological configuration. He believed that everything is set in stone from the very beginning. Aristotle, on the other hand, put the emphasis on the nurture side of the debate. He preached that humans are sponges that soak up the information with every new experience and learning opportunity.

Descartes looked at a different question that boggles the minds of scientists and researchers nowadays. He believed that actions and behaviors of people are predetermined and free will in itself does not exist. According to Descartes, pineal gland controls every behavior in the brain. His view formed a very popular belief called the mind-body dualism. The pineal gland being the master gland for all actions was proven wrong at a later point. The free will vs. determinism debate, however, still remains open in the 21st century.

Research into decision making has become one of the hottest topics in neuroscience nowadays. We now have different research studies that show neuronal spiking activity before a decision is made (1). This sparked a lot of controversy in favor of determinism. Many started proclaiming that if there is neuronal activity before a behavior, that means, that all actions are predetermined beforehand. All the philosophical questions are still very present today and experimental psychology tries to answer the questions with various methods. It does so by looking at the problem in hand from various perspectives.

First steps to science

The beginning of psychology as a discipline emerged in Leipzig, Germany. In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt built his first experimental laboratory on the grounds of the University of Leipzig. Wundt governed the term introspection. Wundt believed that by asking subjects to talk in detail about the experience during an assigned task, he will be able to develop a guideline for the consciousness elements. That became the ultimate goal for introspection. Wundt believed that since conscious experiences could be described by people, there was a possibility to explore and observe these experiences and create a map of them.

Nowadays, looking back, the approach that Wundt had was a bit naïve. Despite that, it became the first milestone in creating what is now known as cognitive psychology. Wundt and his colleagues have discovered that there is a difference in realizing that something is happening or sensing it and understanding what that something is or, perceiving it. He noted a time difference between this notion of sensation and perception. Perception seemed to occur later than sensation.

Wundt’s impact on science today

Experimental Psychology – Laboratory

Nowadays, in cognitive psychology, measuring reaction times happening during various mental tasks is a regular occurrence. Scientists try to show exactly which events happen in the brain first and which ones occur later. Researchers are attempting to acquire the answer to the origin of consciousness. They want to unravel where and when the very first series of neuronal spikes occur in the brain with the introduction of a new stimulus. Researchers trace it back to that same question of free will and determinism. They are still trying to figure out what happens first, the behavior or the action itself or a certain event that happens in the brain.

Of course, nowadays, scientists have a lot more advanced tools to measure these time lapses and series of events. Despite that fact, we seem to not be a lot closer to the truth. We are still trying to figure out the truth behind the conscious experiences and the external behaviors and actions.

Functionalism: evolutionary psychology

Another branch of experimental psychology went into quite the opposite direction from what Wundt and his colleagues were doing. It solidified the ground for what later would become behavioral psychology. Behavioral psychology would dominate the field of the entire discipline for quite some time.

The functionalists, as they called themselves, tried to understand why humans and nonhuman animals behaved in the way they do. Functionalism thesis moved onto to what is also known as evolutionary psychology. It quite heavily operates upon the principles of Darwin’s natural selection. The notion that the best genetic components survived and the not useful ones have disappeared over the years. All actions intend to pass our genes on to our descendants with the goal of keeping our species alive.

Evolutionary psychology is still quite a prominent part of the discipline right now. Despite that it poses a slight problem in the face of experimental psychology. Experimental psychology values reliable and valid experiments. Evolutionary psychology experiments are quite difficult to arrange. Because of this, it is not as popular as some other branches of psychology.

Psychoanalysis: what do you dream of?

After Wundt’s laboratory and the waves of functionalism have died off, a new branch of psychology developed. It is the branch that the majority of the population associated with psychology nowadays. Despite the fact that not many practitioners use it nowadays, it is still quite popular.

Sigmund Freud created the psychodynamic approach was created and it focuses a lot on the unconscious. Id (the unconscious), desires, feelings, memories, and dreams are prime targets for psychodynamic therapists. Compared to other branches of psychology this one does not have very reliable results when it comes to proving its theories. Despite that fact, it came as a result of Freud’s observations of his many patients and their behaviors. Ordinary public associates it with clinical psychology and the methods of treatments for various psychological disorders up to this day.

Freud focused a lot on experiences that a patient cannot remember that could result in various disorders and dysfunctions in the adult life. Freud governed concepts like Oedipal complex, ego, superego, and interpretations of dreams. As mentioned above, not a lot of research went into the psychodynamic theory. Sometimes experimental psychology doesn’t consider the psychodynamic approach a part of it. Despite that, the contributions that the psychodynamic approach provided to the discipline still resonate to this day.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism is one of the prime examples of experimental psychology. Behaviorists believe that the true way to study the mind is by the actions and behaviors themselves and they attempt to do so in an objective and a clear way.

Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner are the big names for behaviorism. Their experiments in classical and operational conditioning are popular in classes to this day. The experiments that they did became the premise for behaviorism. This approach understands everything as results of things happening in the environment – stimuli – and the actions that these stimuli produce – responses.

John. B. Watson was one of the famous American behaviorists with his experiments involving fear stimuli. His experiments were highly unethical and would be quite illegal today, but, despite that, they were the ones that brought quite a lot of light into the concepts of learning and developed phobias. Nowadays, the treatment for various phobias comes exclusively from the behaviorist point of view. Clinicians use exposure therapy to treat phobias and are quite successful in curing the majority of them.

Revolution of cognition

After behaviorism, the cognitive approach became popular as well. It did so due to the fact that scientists at that time became more and more interested in the brain and how the brain influences the behaviors that we do. The development of computers was a big step forward. Researchers saw the potential of how the brain is similar to a computer and how they can utilize information technologies in order to measure the brain and see the anatomy and functions and be able to model different events that happen in the nervous system. Cognitive psychology studies mental processes, memory, learning, attention, judgment, language and uses a variety of different methods including eye tracking and both, non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging methods.

Collaboration of all

Overall, the entire field of experimental psychology encompasses many different sub-disciplines and fields. It developed quite a bit from the first laboratory that Wundt created to hundreds upon hundreds experimental laboratories around the world today. Modern state-of-the art machinery and popular technology methods equip these laboratories in an attempt to help objectively study the mind and the body and the relationship between the two.

References

Marcos E, Genovesio A. Determining Monkey Free Choice Long before the Choice Is Made: The Principal Role of Prefrontal Neurons Involved in Both Decision and Motor Processes. Front Neural Circuits [Internet]. 2016;10:75. Available from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Article/10.3389/fncir.2016.00075/abstract

10 Percent of Brain Capacity: Is It True?

It’s a myth that commonly appears in advertisements, books and movies: humans can only use 10 percent of brain capacity. But is this really true? Is it possible that the organ we commonly think to be the body’s control center, is really only useful for 10 percent of its function? Read below to find out!

Debunking the 10 percent of brain capacity myth

Where did the myth come from?

No one is really sure where the myth actually originated from. There have been many theories when it comes to the brain, some sounding much crazier than others. So it’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly which crazy idea the myth came from, but here are a few theories.

In the early 1800’s, scientists thought that brain functions were located in specific parts of the brain. Scientists Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim brought up phrenology, or the idea that bumps on the skull indicate human behaviors and characteristics. However, some scientists disagreed with their theory, and instead argued that the brain worked as a whole, even though different parts of the brain had different functions. This idea was known as equipotentiality. Scientists tried to prove this theory by removing parts of the brain and observing that the deficits that occurred were more prominent when more of the brain was removed. But this idea remained in debate for many years, and many think that this debate might have sparked the myth somewhere along the way.

Another possible origin of this myth is the work of psychologist Karl Lashley, who believed that memory was not specific to a portion of the cerebral cortex. He tested his theory by first removing certain amounts of the cerebral cortex (get to know your brain!) of rats. He then put the rats through simple mazes and activities that tested visual discrimination. He found that as long as he kept a certain amount of cerebral cortex, the rats would behave normally. For example, he reported that even removing up to 58 percent of the cerebral cortex wouldn’t cause any changes in behavior. But it is likely that the parts of the brain Lashley did remove, he didn’t test in his experiments, making it seem like the rats were behaving normally. His work wasn’t applicable to other parts of the brain, or to more complex beings.

Why does this myth continue?

Other figures such as Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead had also made claims stating that humans only use a small part of the brain. And even though these scientists had no training in neuroscience, people took their word for it.

Today, the 10 percent of brain capacity myth is present in advertisements for programs that claim to tap into the unused potential of the brain. And of course, we can’t forget about the fancy Hollywood movies showing that using the brain’s full capacity would give people super human abilities. Take the film Lucy, for example. Lucy is able to “use 100 percent of brain power”, which allows her to perform super-human acts. But if you know the science behind it, you know that our brain is almost always at full capacity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsR2-v554Hs

But what would happen if we actually did use 10 percent of our brain? Well the brain weighs about 3 pounds, and if we took away 90 percent of it, we would be left with 0.3 pounds, which is the size of a sheep’s brain. But any kind of damage to just a small area of the brain could cause great effects. For example, a stroke could cause very serious disabilities. (In some cases, this acquired brain injury miraculously doesn’t cause any disabilities.. just read about the Phineas Gage case!)

10 percent of brain capacity myths persist because of modern media

How do we know that we don’t use 10 percent of brain capacity?

There is no scientific evidence that we use 10 percent of brain capacity. Here’s a few reasons why:

Action potentials of neurons

Action potentials are the electrical impulses that travel through a neuron so that information can be transmitted to the next neuron. Action potentials only fire when there is enough stimulus to reach a threshold. It works in an “all or none” fashion, meaning that if it doesn’t reach the threshold, the action potential won’t fire. This is helpful because it ensures that all of our neurons aren’t firing at the same time- that would just be too much activity for the brain! But even when neurons are at “rest”, they’re still receiving information from other neurons. So essentially, the neurons are never inactive.

Evolution

When it comes to evolution, there’s the common theme that those who have the advantage in the environment would survive long enough to produce offspring with the same advantageous traits. It wouldn’t make much sense that humans evolved from creatures with smaller brain sizes if there wasn’t an advantage. Functional brain imaging shows that we use all parts of the brain, even when we’re sleeping!

Synaptogenesis

In development, there are many new synapses formed. There is actually a critical period for development in children- where it is important for a child to reach certain neurological milestones in order to lead a healthy life. Some synapses are even eliminated during development as well. The point is, our brain is constantly “fine tuning” itself. The more we learn and expose ourselves to, the more synapses we grow. But there’s a catch. The brain sort of runs a “use it or lose it” policy, meaning that if we stop using the neural connections made, then the function is lost. For example, not having any visual input as a developing child would lead to dramatic vision impairments.

So what’s the takeaway here? That the idea that humans only use 10 percent of brain capacity is a complete myth. So be weary the next time a company advertises that they can help you achieve untapped brain capacity.

Brain gene pushed humans past apes

Brain gene pushed humans past apes.

An international team of researchers led by Scottish scientists says it has discovered a gene that helps explain how humans evolved from chimpanzees. The gene, called miR-941, appears to have played a crucial role in human brain and cognitive development and may shed light on how humans learned to use tools and language, the University of Edinburgh reported