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Sunday, 8 July, 2001, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Sexes 'brains work differently'
Brain
Boys' and girls' brains work differently
Scientists have discovered a difference in the way that pre-pubescent boys' and girls' brains work.

They hope their findings could lead to better treatment for stroke victims.

It might also explain the secret behind the concept of feminine intuition.

The researchers found that boys and girls use different parts of their brains to recognise faces and identify facial expressions.

Boys tend to use more of their right brain, while girls use more of their left brain.

This suggests that the brains of males and females are organised differently before adulthood.

It may also mean that men and women who suffer brain injuries will benefit from different treatment regimes.

Tasks

The researchers, from the State University of New York at Buffalo studied 17 boys and 18 girls between the ages of eight and 11 years.

The children performed two different types of tasks.

For the face recognition memory task, they had to identify "target" faces that appeared on successive slides.

Researchers used sophisticated electrical equipment to study how the children's brain waves changed in the left and right hemispheres as they performed this task.

The second task concentrated on identifying facial expressions from alternatives offered on a series of slides.

This time there was no EEG measurement, but the researchers measured the accuracy and speed of the children's responses.

Equally good

Boys and girls were equally good at both tasks. But they appeared to use different, though sometimes overlapping, parts of their brains to process the information.

The researchers believe it is possible that boys process faces at a global level, an ability more associated with the right hemisphere of the brain.

Conversely, girls may process faces at a more local level - an ability associated with the brain's left hemisphere.

If this is so, they add, the girls' approach could be more of an advantage in detecting fine changes in facial expression - making them better at "reading" people.

There is general consensus that the left side of the brain is associated with language processing.

When patients suffer injury to the left hemisphere the effects are usually obvious as they have trouble with language.

In contrast, the problems associated with damage to the right side of the brain are often subtle, undiagnosed, and subsequently untreated.

Potentially important

Researcher Dr Daniel Everhart, now based at East Carolina University, told BBC News Online: "It is unclear whether or not the face processing differences observed in children remain during adulthood.

"If they do, then there are potentially important implications for individuals that sustain injury to the right hemisphere (e.g., stroke).

"It is possible that women may be better able to compensate for deficits in face processing and face emotion processing following injury to the right hemisphere, as the use of left hemisphere resources may be a viable option.

"In contrast, however, men may not have these resources available."

The research is published in Neuropsychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

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