Sunday February 3, 2013
A woman’s brain
By Dr NOR ASHIKIN MOKHTAR
Are women’s and men’s brains the same? It is not a question we would normally ask ourselves, but it actually provides important insights into a woman’s moods and behaviours.
MEN often joke that women must be alien ceatures, as they simply cannot understand why women think or act the way they do.
There are, in fact, major differences in the brains of men and women. These differences are not only related to hormones, but also to the biological and cultural roles of women, as well as how they have been conditioned to respond to certain situations.
So here are 10 things that men need to know about women’s brains.
10. Women are different every day
This can be quite frustrating to a man, who feels as if he is struggling every day to understand why a woman behaves one way today and another way tomorrow, even when the situation is the same.
What in the world is happening inside a woman’s brain? The answer is hormones. There are many different hormones at play in a woman’s body, and their levels change every day of the cycle, affecting her moods, responses and perspectives.
Ovulation takes place approximately 10 days after the menstrual cycle begins. It is during this fertile period that a woman’s oestrogen and testosterone levels surge, and it is believed that she unconsciously dresses sexier at this time as she is looking for a mate.
A week later, her progesterone level rises, changing her emotions into an affectionate, relaxed mood. However, be warned – this does not last long!
The following week, progesterone levels dip, and the withdrawal effect causes the relaxed mood to disappear. Instead, the woman becomes irritable and prone to crying over minor issues.
The moodiness reaches its peak about 12 to 24 hours before menstruation begins. At the next cycle, it all repeats again.
As you can see, hormones play a big part in how women feel throughout their cycle.
9. Women have intuition
It is true that women are naturally intuitive and can sometimes tell or guess what someone will do before it happens.
However, this has nothing to do with magic or mind-reading. It is due to women’s observational skills, which have evolved over time so that women can fulfil their maternal role.
As mothers, women have to be able to guess what their children need, even if their child or infant cannot communicate directly with them. They rely on non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body postures and tones of voice. In time, these skills have become instinctive to generations of women.
Of course, women apply these skills outside of motherhood as well, often being able to “read” the minds of other people close to them, such as their partners, colleagues or friends.
8. Women avoid aggression
Men are more aggressive, while women avoid confrontation. This is generally accepted as a major difference between both genders, although it is not as simple as the cliché “women are the gentler sex”.
It is thought that women’s avoidance of violence and direct confrontation can be traced back to their early roles as the caregivers of the family. As they needed to stay alive to nurture their young, they would choose strategic ways to deal with threats, including negotiation, manipulation or building alliances.
Until today, women and men rarely see eye-to-eye when it comes to facing down a threatening or challenging situation, as both have different ways of overcoming it.
7. Women need a response
Although women hate conflict, they hate the lack of a response even more. This may explain why women get frustrated when men choose to ignore certain situations or simply shrug when asked for their opinion on something.
One possible reason for this is because women are so sensitive to external and non-verbal cues – as explained earlier – that they find it unbearable to ignore them.
6. Women are more sensitive
Again, this is a widely acknowledged fact, seen in the way women respond more emotionally or strongly to upsetting situations or sad books and movies. It is also frequently attributed to the “gentler sex” rationale.
Women’s brains actually respond to pain and fear differently compared to men’s. Scans have shown that certain areas of women’s brains demonstrate greater activity when faced with painful or frightening situations.
However, while women are more sensitive to even small amounts of stress, they are less able to deal with high levels of stress over a long period. This probably explains why women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
5. Women are more easily turned off
Men are probably very familiar with this characteristic! Yes, women are generally more sensitive to elements that disrupt sexual arousal.
It is more difficult for a woman to get into the mood, and to stay in it, during sex. Everything, from her mood, things happening around her, or even her physical surroundings, can affect her arousal.
If she has had a stressful day, has been ill or is feeling anxious about the next day, do not expect her to be in a sexy mood. As women tend to be more sensitive to stress factors, and generally have to cope with issues at home, as well as at work, it is no wonder that their sex drives tend to swing in the opposite direction from men’s.
4. Women have ‘pregnant brain’
Pregnancy changes everything about a woman – not only her body shape and size, but even her brain as well!
Pregnancy actually causes a woman’s brain to shrink by about 4%, although the size reverts back to normal six months after delivery.
Remember when progesterone was mentioned earlier? It puts women in a “sedated” mood, and as progesterone levels increase up to 30 times during pregnancy, most pregnant women find themselves wanting to sleep most of the time.
Of course, there is also a strong belief that the hormone changes which occur during pregnancy have a great deal to do with the changes in women’s behaviours and attitudes, including maternal feelings and memory problems.
3. Women have ‘mommy brain’
First comes pregnancy, then comes motherhood. A woman will find that her attitude towards life and her expectations change drastically when she has a child, as she herself is facing enormous physical, emotional, mental and social upheaval.
Most significantly, women begin to behave in a way that indicates their need for a predictable routine and a support network around them, so that they can care for their children and be responsive to their children’s needs.
2. Women have a second adolescence
It may sound like a second chance at youth, but unfortunately, it has more to do with menopause and ageing.
When women reach their 40s, they go through a phase of hormonal changes similar to adolescence, called perimenopause. It starts around age 43 and reaches its peak at the age of 47 or 48, before finally tapering off by the time they reach the early 50s.
During perimenopause, women get erratic mood swings, irregular periods and the dreaded night sweats.
1. Women get younger as they get older
In fact, the so-called second wind comes after menopause. From the time they hit their 50s, women tend to discover a new zest for life and a desire to experience new adventures in life, whether it is to travel the world, learn a new skill or meet new people.
These changes in a woman’s brain dictate why she goes through so many different moods and attitudes in her lifetime.
No one remains the exact same person over the years. We all change, shaped by internal and external influences.
That is what makes life interesting.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.