Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain

By Daniel G. Amen, MD Psychiatrist and Brain Imaging Expert Medical Director of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, San Francisco, Seattle,Washington D.C., Atlanta and New York. Dr. Amen is author of the new book, Unleash the Power of the Female Brain

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In the largest brain imaging study ever done, we compared the scans of 46,000 male and female brains using a study called SPECT, which looks at blood flow and activity patterns. Out of 80 areas tested, females were significantly more active in 70, which just explained my whole life – I have 5 sisters, 3 daughters and 14 nieces. These differences help us understand some of the unique strengths and vulnerabilities of the female brain and give us important clues on how to optimize it.   

Because of the increased activity, females often exhibit greater strengths in the areas of: empathy; intuition, or knowing something that is true without knowing exactly why; collaboration, which is why women often make better bosses; self-control, which is the reason why females go to jail dramatically less often than males; and appropriate worry. In a large study, it was found that the “don’t worry be happy people,” more typically men on motorcycles, died earlier from accidents or preventable illnesses. (So, if you’re the type who goes for the bad boys, make sure to buy lots of life insurance on them.)

But this increased activity also makes females more vulnerable to: Anxiety; depression, which they suffer from twice as much as men; insomnia; eating disorders; pain; and being unable to turn off your thoughts. 

In this article, I’ll show you 5 steps to unleash the power of the female brain. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, once said, “There is no strategy more beneficial to society, than the ones in which women play a central role.” Women admit problems and reach out for help faster. If a couple is having trouble, nearly 8 out of 10 times it’s the woman who calls one of our 6 Amen Clinics across the US for help; or if a child is struggling in school or with his emotions, nearly 9 out of 10 times it is the mother who brings him in, even though both parents work full time. I think that the female’s ability to admit problems and get help is one of the main reasons why women typically live 7 years longer than men. 

We found that females have stronger activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is involved with planning, judgment, empathy and self-control. I think of the prefrontal cortex as the brain’s brake. It helps keep you on track and stops you from saying or doing stupid things. When the prefrontal cortex is low in activity, you can struggle with short attention span, distractibility and problems with impulse control. When it works too hard, as it often does in women, it’s like the parking brake is always on and you can get stuck on certain thoughts or behaviors, such as worrying or holding grudges. 

An area deep in the prefrontal cortex called the anterior cingulate gyrus is also more active in females. It is involved with error detection which is why you can sometimes focus too much on what is wrong: with your body, your children, or even your own good husbands – not that I’ve ever noticed my wife doing that. A study from Canada showed that women produce 52% less serotonin than men. This is very important as serotonin helps calm and relax the prefrontal cortex. When serotonin levels are too low, people often struggle with anxiety, depression, pain syndromes and trouble sleeping because you can’t let go of the negative thoughts, obsessive worry and carbohydrate cravings. 

Article written by Daniel G. Amen, MD
Psychiatrist and Brain Imaging Expert Medical Director of Amen Clinics in Newport Beach, San Francisco, Seattle,Washington D.C.,...