Are Men and Women Different in the Way They Process Images?

Got Her! by npiggy2Do men and women process information in different ways? Popular wisdom often describes women as more emotionally focused and men as more visually centered.  New brain research appears to support this commonly held belief. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) researchers studied how the brains of men and women differ when processing positive and negative images. Polish researchers studied 21 men and 19 women between the ages of 18 and 36. The volunteers had an fMRI while looking at pictures from the International Affective Picture System which is a standardized system of thousands of slides depicting daily life that are designed to provoke emotional states.

In the experiment, researchers began by having subjects look at negative images. What they found was that the area of womens’ brains that were heavily activated included the left thalamus, which is associated with the identification of emotional information. In men, on the other hand, the intensity of activation was seen in the left insula which is involved in motivating action in the form of a “fight or flight response”. The results suggest that women tend to experience the emotional aspects of negative imagery more readily than men. They also suggest that men are more likely to respond in a physical manner to negative images. According to Dr. Urbanik from University Hospital in Krakow, Poland, “This might signal that when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action.”

The second part of the assessment looked at differences in how the sexes process positive images. Once again, contrasts were found. Women’s brains showed strong activation in the right superior temporal gyrus which is associated with memory and language. In men, positive images showed greater intensity in the visual areas of the brain, that is, in the bilateral occipital lobes. The findings suggest that women are more likely to place positive images in the context of their previous experiences and to favor using language to engage, process and talk about what they’ve seen. With men, the results suggest that positive images are appreciated in the here and now for their visual qualities. For instance, men looking at their child may simply be appreciating their beauty, while women are more likely to recall and talk about their childhood experiences.

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