Sent: 13-04-2010 08:54:09
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Brain Rules part 7
This continues my series on the 12 Brain Rules produced by Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant: I have so far outlined the first 10 rules, the last two are outlined here:
11. "Gender" - Your Sex Affects Your Brain
Any one who has read my work will not be surprised by this one. Scientists find subtle anatomical and functional differences between male and female brains. For example, women synthesize the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, more slowly than men. The genders respond somewhat differently to acute stress: Women often assume a caring role, while men isolate themselves. However, no given individual necessarily conforms to group statistics. The X chromosome that males have one of and females have two of (though one it seems acts as a backup), is a cognitive "hot spot," carrying an unusually large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture.
Women are genetically more complex, because the active X chromosomes in their cells are a mix of Mom's and Dad's. Men's X chromosomes all come from Mom, and their Y chromosome carries less than 100 genes, compared with about 1,500 for the X chromosome. Men's and women's brains are different structurally and biochemically-men have a bigger amygdala and produce serotonin faster, for example-but we don't know if those differences have significance.
- Mental health professionals have known for years about sex-based differences in the type and severity of psychiatric disorders. Males are more severely afflicted by schizophrenia than females. By more than 2 to 1, women are more likely to get depressed than men, a figure that shows up just after puberty and remains stable for the next 50 years. Males exhibit more antisocial behavior. Females have more anxiety. Most alcoholics and drug addicts are male. Most anorexics are female.
- Men and women handle acute stress differently. When researcher Larry Cahill showed them slasher films, men fired up the amygdale in their brain's right hemisphere, which is responsible for the gist of an event. Their left was comparatively silent. Women lit up their left amygdale, the one responsible for details. Having a team that simultaneously understood the gist and details of a given stressful situation helped us conquer the world.
- Men and women process certain emotions differently. Emotions are useful. They make the brain pay attention. These differences are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture.
12. "Exploration" - A Sense of Wonder Promotes Learning
As infants become toddlers, they act like little scientists, constantly examining their environment, and testing cause and effect. Their brains are busy gaining data and concepts to help them navigate their circumstances. The adult brain remains flexible and plastic. People are able to learn throughout their life spans.
- The desire to explore never leaves us despite the classrooms and cubicles we so often exist in.
- Babies are the model of how we learn-not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion.
- Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis ("The saber-toothed tiger is not harmless"), and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior ("Run!").
- We can recognize and imitate behavior because of "mirror neurons" scattered across the brain.
- Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a baby's, so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives.
- Google takes to heart the power of exploration. For 20 percent of their time, employees may go where their mind asks them to go. The proof is in the bottom line: fully 50 percent of new products, including Gmail and Google News, came from "20 percent time
That concludes my series on this fascinating research. For those who want to learn more go to
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