Node Smith, ND

Interesting Study on the Difference Between Brain Structures in Boys and Girls

An interesting study confirms that callous-unemotional traits in boys are linked to certain brain structures not found in girls.1 This comes from a team of European researchers at the University of Basel and the University of Basel Psychiatric Hospital. The study looked at brain development in nearly 200 adolescents.

Emotional Voidedness Linked to Deficits in Empathy and Conscience

The trait of callousness or emotional voidedness has been linked to deficits in the ability to display empathy, and also the development of conscience. This is important because children and adolescents will react less to negative stimuli as well as preferring risky experiences and heed less to fear. This personality trait has become an increased concern in recent years because they are associated with more serious antisocial behavior.

Which Came First the Antisocial Behavior or the Brain Structure Differences?

Until recently, most of the studies in this field have concentrated on callousness in individuals already diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Because of this it has been unclear the associations between these personality traits and brain structure; do brain structure differences only exist in clinical population displaying increased aggression, or does antisocial behavior and aggression explain brain differences?

Findings Revealed only Boys Showed Differences in Neurological Structure

With an MRI, the researchers were able to look at neurological development of “normal-developing” teens and determine whether callous-unemotional traits were linked to alterations in brain structure. The findings showed that only boys showed differences in neurological structure. In typically-developing boys, the anterior insular volume is larger in individuals with more callous traits. The anterior insula is recognized as a region important in recognizing emotions and feeling empathy. Girls did not show this structural change, even when they displayed the same personality traits.

There is more research being done in this area, but for now it is an interesting difference between boys and girls.

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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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