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Penn researchers use brain imaging to demonstrate how men and women cope differently under stress
Date:11/19/2007

PHILADELPHIA According to a study that appears in the current issue of SCAN (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience), researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discuss how men and women differ in their neural responses to psychological stress.

We found that different parts of the brain activate with different spatial and temporal profiles for men and women when they are faced with performance-related stress, says J.J. Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor or Radiology and Neurology, and lead author of the study.

These findings suggest that stress responses may be fundamentally different in each gender, sometimes characterized as fight-or-flight in men and tend-and-befriend in women. Evolutionarily, males may have had to confront a stressor either by overcoming or fleeing it, while women may have instead responded by nurturing offspring and affiliating with social groups that maximize the survival of the species in times of adversity. The fight-or-flight response is associated with the main stress hormone system that produces cortisol in the human body the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Thirty-two healthy subjects 16 females and 16 males received fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans before, during and after they underwent a challenging arithmetic task (serial subtraction of 13 from a 4 digit number), under pressure. To increase the level of stress, the researchers frequently prompted participants for a faster performance and asked them to restart the task if they responded incorrectly. As a low stress control condition, participants were asked to count backward without pressure.

The researchers measured heart rate, cortisol levels (a stress hormone), subjects perceived stress levels throughout the experiments, and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF), which provides a marker of regional brain function. In men, it was found that stress was associated with increased CBF in
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Contact: Kate Olderman Tavella
kate.olderman@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-8369
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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