As a follow-up to Mike’s wonderful post today about the Elephant and the Rider and the Warring Selves, here’s a little more food for thought on the subject.
An article appeared yesterday in the London Free Press about a new study (abstract free, full text not) purporting to show that female brains don’t as easily turn off the appetite signal when confronted with a favorite food (read: can’t as easily forget that there is a box of donuts in the breakroom) than those of their brethren.
Researchers, studying the mysteries of voluntary hunger suppression, were surprised when PET scans of fasted subjects–23 men and 23 women–presented with their favorite foods, showed marked gender differences. The ‘feeling’ or ’emotional’ parts of the brains of all participants lit up like a Christmas tree on sight of the favored food. The subjects had been taught ‘cognitive inhibition’ suppression techniques to consciously quiet hunger that they were asked to employ during the test.
When men employed the techniques, they reported that their hunger did abate and the PET scan showed dimming of the activity in those previously-lit-up parts of the brain.
Not so with the ladies.
“There is something going on in the female…The signal is so much different…Even though the women said[my italics] they were less hungry when trying to inhibit their response to the food, their brains were still firing away in the regions that control the drive to eat,” Wang said.
But what does it all mean? Who knows (and the authors didn’t speculate). But I can…
Is it that the female brain is less capable of focusing on the ‘congnitive inhibition’ or are women’s brains, once focused, more complex machines with greater RAM and therefore less easily distracted? Does the difference spring from the theory of the polychronic female brain, versus the monochronic male one? The difference that, some would say, allows a mother to juggle many things at once: cook dinner, talk to her mother on the phone, help Joannie with her homework, keep an eye on 2-year-old Billy and the new puppy, change the baby’s diaper, and do a load of laundry almost simultaneously?
Maybe that polychronicity allowed the female subjects to keep the image of the warm donut in the backs of their minds, even while willing themselves with another part of the brain to backburner it…for now…and report less hunger. While the male brain, able perhaps to focus on only one thing at a time could either think about the donut or not. Maybe the male brain operates on a binary system that means if they choose to think about something else…poof!…thoughts of the donut vanish. Whereas the female brain may operate more like an iMac, capable of having dozens of windows up on the screen, with one application overlaying the other, all of them there and quickly accessible, but running silently behind the one in the forefront.
All pure speculation, of course, and just a few of a score of other plausible explanations for the difference. The study doesn’t address any of the whys, but it provides such intriguing fodder for future studies, they will surely follow in due course.
Thus, although I completely agree with my husband about Dr. Glasser’s theory in general, it may prove to be the case that we of the fairer sex are wired to have more trouble than our brothers at sublimating the desire for the warm donuts through simple distraction. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to do so, just that it may be another of those inequalities/differences in the sexes that makes it a slightly tougher row to hoe…or in this case, donut to ignore…for us.