Journal Article

Does gender play a role in functional asymmetry of ventromedial prefrontal cortex?

Daniel Tranel, Hanna Damasio, Natalie L. Denburg and Antoine Bechara

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 128, issue 12, pages 2872-2881
Published in print December 2005 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online September 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI:
Does gender play a role in functional asymmetry of ventromedial prefrontal cortex?

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We found previously in a lesion study that the right-sided sector of the ventromedial prefrontal cortices (VMPCs) was critical for social/emotional functioning and decision-making, whereas the left side appeared to be less important. It so happened that all but one of the subjects in that study were men, and the one woman did not fit the pattern very well. This prompted a follow-up investigation, in which we explored the following question: Does gender play a role in the development of defects in social conduct, emotional functioning and decision-making, following unilateral VMPC damage? We culled from our Patient Registry same-sex pairs of men or women patients who had comparable unilateral VMPC damage in either the left or right hemisphere. Two male pairs and one female pair were formed, and we included two additional women with unilateral right VMPC damage (8 patients in all). The domains of measurement covered social conduct, emotional processing and personality, and decision-making. We found a systematic effect of gender on the pattern of left–right asymmetry in VMPC. In men, there were severe defects following unilateral right VMPC damage, but not following left-sided damage. In women, there were defects following unilateral left VMPC damage; following right-sided damage, however, defects were mild or absent. The findings suggest that men and women may use different strategies to solve similar problems—e.g. men may use a more holistic, gestalt-type strategy, and women may use a more analytic, verbally-mediated strategy. Such differences could reflect asymmetric, gender-related differences in the neurobiology of left and right VMPC sectors.

Keywords: sex differences; frontal lobes; emotion; personality; decision-making; IGT = Iowa gambling task; MMPI-2 = Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2; SCR = skin conductance response; VMPC = ventromedial prefrontal cortex; WAIS-III = Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Third Edition.

Journal Article.  7307 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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