SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAIN: FROM GENES TO BEHAVIOR ed by Jill B. Becker, Karen J. Berkley, Nori Geary, Elizabeth Hampson, James P. Herman, Elizabeth A. Young
Review by Nancy Yanes-Hoffman, THE WRITING DOCTOR, at www.writingdoctor.typepad.com, email: email@example.com, 585-385-1515--16 San Rafael Drive, Rochester NY 14618
“Why can't a woman,” moans MY FAIR LADY’s Professor Henry Higgins, “be more like a man?” Proffering his accepted superiority of men, Higgins’s litany complains, “Women are irrational, Can't a woman learn to use her head? Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do? Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?” Finally, Higgins throws up his hands, ““Why can't a woman take after a man? Why can't a woman be like me?”
Higgins isn’t the only one who wonders about sex differences. From time immemorial (and even before), the differences between the brains and behavior of men and women have teased and tantalized academicians and researchers. Husbands, wives, and lovers have all protested the hollow emptiness of “Vive le difference.”
Despite this, the crossroads between sex, brain, and behavior have only recently become a field for serious exploration. Sherry Marts, vice president of scientific affairs for the Society for Women’s Health Research, states in her preface to the seminal new guidebook, SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE BRAIN: From Genes to Behavior, edited by Jill B. Becker, Karen L. Berkley, Nori Geary, Elizabeth Hampson, James P. Herman, Elizabeth R. Young (Oxford U Pr, Dec, 2007): “Scientific evidence of sex differences in the brain is only regularly emerging now.”
And emerge it has. For questions continually nag: Why are men and women so different? What factors, biological and cultural, account for their divergences and disparities? How will new and better knowledge help men and women understand each other, build better relationships in the future? How will it translate into better health care for both men and women?
Recognizing the need for bridging the chasms in our knowledge of the health discrepancies between men and women, Doctor Becker and her five colleagues have written and edited a brilliant, long-overdue guidebook leading us to better understanding, treatment, and care of men and women.
SEX DIFFERENCES divides in three parts, what we already know, what we need to know, and how our knowledge will affect the neurobiology of disease and the treatment of neurological disorders.
In the very first chapter, Turk Rhen and David Crews ask the crucial question: “Why Are There Two Sexes?” After that, Margaret McCarthy and Arthur Arnold sum up what we know about sex differences in “What’s old and what’s New.”
This introductory section examines research and methodological issues, insights and challenges, as they affect both “Hormone-Behavior Relations,” in non-human animals and most specially in human animals. Understanding and monitoring the menstrual cycle is then essential information for grasping the way that male and female brains, stress systems, and pharmacogenomics function. Jill Becker has tellingly focused her attention on these subjects for the last two decades.
The fascinating second section zeroes in on the interaction between neurobiology and behavior. Chapters hone in on steroid receptors and their influence on sex differences in behavior, another Becker specialty. Other topics include dissimilarities in affiliative behavior and social bonding; motivation, movement; energy, obesity, and eating; children’s play; neurocognition of language (“why don’t you ever talk to me?”); and visuospacial perception. If they do nothing else, these researches prove how different we really are. And how important it is for us to understand those differences.
Devoted to the neurobiology of disease, the last section covers male and female responses to infectious and autoimmune disease (why is fibromyalgia visited upon more women than men?), pain (which gender is more likely to become addicted?), anxiety, mood, Parkinsonism. As Boomers and their parents join the aging multitudes in the future that awaits all of us, the penultimate chapter on aging and Alzheimer’s diseases (yes, plural) is a particularly important resource for casual readers, clinicians (neurologist and non-neurologists), patients and families.
One caveat: We hope the Becker group will continue listening carefully to men and women and recording their findings. Certainly, we hope they are at work on a companion volume to fill the lacunae in this text. For what about such other common autoimmune diseases as arthritis and diabetes which the book does not mention? What about a more detailed discussion—apart from steroidal and hormonal levels--of the differences between male and female sexual desire, fulfillment, satisfaction, and oncomitant tendencies to infidelity (not limited to governors of New York).
In the meantime, the inquiring reader will find it helpful to consult the plethora of books on genes (Tower lists 28 for 2008 in its catalog!). Turning to the March 18th, 2008 issue of the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA), which is devoted to genes, genetics, and genomics, will add a world of information to the Becker group’s excellent guidebook.
While scientists and researchers have long needed a book like SEX DIFFERENCES, its readership should not be limited to academia. The questing student of any age will find answers to many thorny questions—as well as more challenges to his or her perspectives and relationships.