Stanford University Study Shows How Boys' And Girls' Brains Process Traumatic Stress Differently


Stanford University has released a study that shows how different boys' and girls' brains process traumatic stress. It also caused different changes in the brains of both sexes.

According to the Stanford Medicine News Center, a new brain-scanning study revealed how traumatic stress has different effects on the brains of adolescent boys and girls. It was found that there are structural differences on both sexes with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in one part of the insula.

The insula is the part of the brain which detects cues from the body. It processes emotions and empathy. It also facilitates in integrating one's feelings, actions as well as other brain functions.

The study was published online on Nov. 11 in "Depression and Anxiety." This is the first study to show differences between male and female PTSD patients in a part of the insula.

"The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD," the study's senior author, Victor Carrion, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said. "The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls who have experienced psychological trauma is important because it may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes."

The Stanford University researchers conducted MRI scans of the brains of 59 study participants aged 9 to 17. 14 girls and 16 boys had trauma symptoms. The other 29, a control group of 15 girls and 14 boys, did not have trauma symptoms. All of them had similar ages and IQs.

Health Day noted that PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, withdrawal from people, places and things that trigger the trauma as well as problems in sleeping and concentrating.

There were no differences in terms of brain structure between boys and girls in the control group. What's interesting, though, is that there were differences in a portion of the insula called the anterior circular sulcus for the traumatized boys and girls.

This brain region became larger in volume and surface area in traumatized boys. Inversely, it was smaller in girls with trauma than the control group girls.

"It is important that people who work with traumatized youth consider the sex differences," Megan Klabunde, PhD, the study's lead author and an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said. "Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment."

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