10 Interesting Facts About Male Brains
Most popular notions about the male brain are based on studies of men ages 18 to 22 -- undergrads subjecting themselves to experiments for beer money or course credit. But a man's brain varies tremendously over his life span, quickly contradicting the image of the single-minded sex addict that circulates in mainstream consciousness.<br><br>
From his wandering eye to his desire to mate for life, here's what you need to know about <a href="http://www.livescience.com/bestimg/index.php?url=myths_men_sex_03.jpg&cat=myths">guys' minds</a>.
--<a href="mailto:RobinNixon@hotmail.com">Robin Nixon</a>, LiveScience Staff Writer
Covet wedding bells, too
Women want to settle down, and men want to sow their wild oats <em>forever,</em>
the refrain usually goes. But this might be one of the largest
misconceptions stemming from the U.S. tendency of using undergrads as
Infidelities are most likely to occur before men hit 30, found a
study of Bolivian men published in the <em>Proceedings of the Royal
Society</em> in 2007. After that, men primarily focus on providing for
their families, the study found.
Of course, some men have a harder time with commitment than others -- a
problem which could be genetic, according to a 2008 study in the <em>Proceedings
of the National Academy of Science. </em>Men without the "promiscuity
gene," an estimated 60 percent of the population, are more likely to
marry. But that's not all. Both they <em>and</em> their wives are also
more likely to report relative marital bliss, the researchers found.
Unfortunately, the association is so small, said the study's lead
researcher Hasse Walum of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, "you can't use it for screening potential mates."
An unstable hierarchy can cause men considerable anxiety, Brizendine
said. But an established chain of command, such as that practiced by the
military and many work places, reduces testosterone and curbs <a href="http://www.livescience.com/culture/080819-wide-face.html">male aggression</a>, she said.
Pre-occupation with establishing pecking order, which starts as early
as age 6, motivates the "male dance, where they are always putting each
other down," Brizendine added. "It is better to be aggressive in a verbal jab than to duke it out," she said.
The male brain becomes especially primed for cooperation in the
months before becoming a father. Fathers-to-be go through hormone
changes -- prolactin goes up, testosterone goes down -- which likely
encourage paternal behavior, found a 2000 study in <em>Evolution and
The pheromones of a pregnant woman may waft over to her mate to spur
these changes, said Brizendine, who was not involved with the study.
The expecting mom might be repaying a favor: Even before she is pregnant, male pheromones cause good-mom neurons to sprout in the female brain, found a 2008 study published in the journal <em>Hormones and
The mature male brain
Over the course of evolution, men have needed to <a href="http://www.livescience.com/culture/attractive-women-risk-taking-100319.html">compete for status and mates</a> while young and emphasize bonding and cooperation when mature, Mehta said.
Men seem to agree; and psychological studies have shown that one-upmanship holds less appeal for older men. Instead, they pay more attention to relationships and bettering the community, Brizendine said.
The change is likely aided by the slow natural decline in testosterone as a man ages. Mehta and colleagues found that men with high testosterone levels tend to be better at one-on-one competition, while those with lower levels excel at competitions requiring team cooperation. The study was published in the journal <em>Hormones and Behavior</em> in 2009.
Daddy-specific ways of playing with their kids -- more rough-housing,
more spontaneity, more teasing -- can help kids learn better, be more
confidant, and prepare them for the real world, studies have shown.
Also, <a href="http://www.livescience.com/health/090515-sos-fathers.html">involved
dads lessen risky kids' sexual behavior</a>.
Fathers that actively parent tend to have lower testosterone levels,
report several cross-cultural studies. While it is not known if the
hormone levels cause the behavior or vice versa, researchers theorize
that <a href="http://www.livescience.com/culture/090619-inherit-dads.html">evolution
has favored involved dads</a>. Human children are among the neediest of
the animal kingdom and good dads optimize the chance that their
offspring -- and their genes -- survive.
Must defend turf
"Part of the male job, evolutionarily-speaking, is to defend turf,"
Brizendine said. More research is needed in humans but in other male
mammals, the "defend my turf" brain area is larger than their female
counterparts,' she said.
While women too have fits of possessiveness, men are much more likely
to become violent when faced with a threat to their love life or
territory, she said.
Hard-wired to check out women
While often linked to aggression and hostility, testosterone is also
the hormone of the libido. And guys have six times the amount surging
through their veins as women, said Pranjal Mehta, a social psychologist
at Columbia University in New York.
Mehta and colleagues found that testosterone impairs the
impulse-control region of the brain. While it has yet to be studied,
this may explain why, as Brizendine says, <a href="http://www.livescience.com/culture/etc/090805-men-stare-women-minutes-per-day.html">men ogle women</a> as if on "auto-pilot." They often forget about the woman once she is out of their visual field, Brizendine said.
Focused on solutions
While many studies suggest that women are more empathetic than men,
Dr. Brizendine stresses this is not entirely true. The empathy system of
the male brain does respond when someone is stressed or expressing a
problem. But the "fix-it" region quickly takes over.
"This hub does a Google search of the entire brain to come up with a
solution," said Brizendine. As a result, men tend to be more concerned
with fixing a problem than showing solidarity in feeling, she said.
More vulnerable to loneliness
While <a href="http://www.livescience.com/health/060331_loneliness.html">loneliness
can take a toll on everyone's health</a> and brain, older men seem
particularly vulnerable, said Dr. Louann Brizendine, a professor of
clinical psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and
author of "The Male Brain" (Broadway, March 2010)<em>.</em>
Men tend to reach out less than women, which exacerbates loneliness and the toll it takes on their brains' social circuits, she said.
Living with women may be particularly helpful. Men in stable relationships tend to be healthier, live longer and have hormone levels that may indicate decreased anxiety, studies have shown.
Women might also be good for a guy's gonads. Male mice living with
females remained fertile longer than their isolated cousins, found a
study published in the <em>Biology of Reproduction</em> in 2009.
While females are usually considered the more emotional gender,
infant boys are more emotionally reactive and expressive than infant
girls, researchers have found.
Adult men have slightly stronger emotional reactions, too -- but only
before they are aware of their feelings, found a 2008 study published in the <em>Scandinavian Journal of Psychology </em>that closely monitored
facial expressions<em>.</em> Once the emotion reaches consciousness,
however, men adopt a poker face.
When young, boys likely learn to hide emotions that culture considers
"unmanly." But tamping down emotion also spurs the body's "fight or
flight" response. A man's strong reaction and subsequent suppression may
ready him to handle a threat, theorize the 2008 study researchers at
Lund University in Sweden.