Men do hear -- but differently than women, brain images show

November 27, 2000

INDIANAPOLIS -- Research conducted at the Indiana University School of Medicine may help resolve an age-old dilemma between the sexes. Men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both, according to information on brain imaging presented Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the 86th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

The study may add fuel to the females' argument, but researchers say the findings don't address whether women are better listeners than men.

"Our research suggests language processing is different between men and women, but it doesn't necessarily mean performance is going to be different," said Joseph T. Lurito, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology at IU School of Medicine. "We don't know if the difference is because of the way we're raised, or if it's hard-wired in the brain."

In the study, 20 men and 20 women underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while listening to a passage from "The Partner," a John Grisham novel. A majority of the men showed exclusive activity on the left side of the brain, in the temporal lobe, which is classically associated with listening and speech. The majority of women showed activity in the temporal lobe on both sides of the brain, although predominantly on the left. The right temporal lobe traditionally is associated with non-language auditory functions. "As scientists, we're figuring out what normal is, and more and more often it seems we're finding that normal for men may be different than normal for women," said Micheal Phillips, M.D., assistant professor of radiology and co-author of the study. "That doesn't mean one is better or more capable than the other."

The finding may help with research regarding how men and women recover from stroke and brain tumors, said Dr. Lurito. It also may help guide brain surgeons in avoiding certain areas of the brain, depending on whether they're operating on men or women, he said. "Also, scientists working on improving imaging technologies, such as fMRI and PET (positron emission tomography), need to be aware of potential gender differences," said Dr. Phillips.
Co-authors of a paper on the topic being presented at RSNA by Drs. Lurito and Phillips are Mario Dzemidzic, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology; Mark J. Lowe, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology; Yang Wang, M.D., assistant scientist of radiology, and Vincent P. Mathews, M.D., associate professor of radiology. The research was funded by the IU School of Medicine Department of Radiology.

The RSNA is an association of 31,000 radiologists and physicists in medicine dedicated to education and research in the science of radiology. The society's headquarters is located in Oak Brook, Ill.

The Indiana University School of Medicine, the state's only medical school, has nine regional campuses with more than 1,000 full-time faculty teaching nearly 2,000 medical students and residents annually.

(Electronic graphic depicting differences in brain activity available)

Indiana University

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