A new study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain activation, show men and women may respond differently to danger.
Using fMRI to study brain activation, the research team led by Jagiellonian University Hospital in Krakow, Poland has found that men and women respond differently to positive and negative stimuli.
"Men may direct more attention to sensory aspects of emotional stimuli and tend to process them in terms of implications for required action, whereas women direct more attention to the feelings engendered by emotional stimuli," said lead researcher Andrzej Urbanik, chair of Radiology at Jagiellonian University Hospital in Krakow, Poland
The FMRI scans of 21 men and 19 women, between the ages of 18 and 36 showed that while viewing the negative images, women showed stronger and more extensive activation in the left thalamus, which relays sensory information to and from the cerebral cortex, including the pain and pleasure centres.
The research team showed that men exhibited more activation in the left insula, which gauges the physiological state of the entire body and then generates subjective feelings that can bring about actions.
Information from the insula is relayed to other brain structures involved in decision-making.
"The brain activation seen in the women might indicate stronger involvement of the neural circuit, which is associated with identification of emotional stimuli," Urbanik said.
"The more pronounced activation of the insular cortex in the men might be related to the autonomic components, such as elevated heart rate or increased sweating, that accompany watching emotional material," he added.
The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary functions including respiration, heart rate and digestion, and helps to adjust certain functions in response to stress or other environmental stimuli. It is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response to threatening situations.
"In men, the negative images on the slides were more potent in driving their autonomic system. This might signal that when confronted with dangerous situations, men are more likely than women to take action," Urbanik added.
He said these differences indicate that women may analyze positive stimuli in a broader social context and associate the positive images with a particular memory.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).