A new study has presented results that suggest that traumatic life events may have different effects on the brains of girls and boys. The results showed that the anterior circular sulcus, in the participating boys, was larger in individuals experiencing symptoms of trauma when compared to a control group that didn’t exhibit any symptoms of such an event. However, in girls, the same region of the brain was smaller in the group that showed symptoms of trauma.
According to the researchers, the anterior circular sulcus is a region of the brain that is linked to empathy and being emotionally aware. The lead author of the study, Megan Klabunde, said that it came as a surprise to observe that the effects of trauma on the brains of girls and boys were so different. Klabunde is a psychologist and a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The particular region of the brain in both control groups was compared and it was seen to be of similar size. An explanation for the current results is that the development of the brain is impacted differently by being exposed to a traumatic event in life. However, the current research was conducted at only one point in time. That is why it isn’t possible to see whether or not a cause-and-effect relationship, in both boys and girls, is present with regards to the size of the particular brain region and trauma.
A total of 59 brains, of children aged 9-17, were scanned by researchers. A sMRI was used for scanning purposes. The control group had 29 children who didn’t exhibit symptoms of trauma. The experimental group had 30 children and all of them showed symptoms of trauma such as mentally re-living the horrible events and experiencing changes in mood. A traumatic event had been faced by these children more than six months before the beginning of the study.
The size of the children’s anterior circular sulcus was compared. This particular part is present in the insula, a region of the brain that is said to play a role in governing a person’s awareness, empathy and emotions. But it should be noted that the insula isn’t an isolated role-player. It happens to be connected with other regions of the brain which also help in processing emotions and exhibiting empathy.
According to previous research, approximately 8% girls and 2% boys end up developing PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder sometime in their life. Girls are at higher risk of PTSD than boys. While the current results do offer promising implications, such as the creation of patient-specific PTSD treatment and better understanding how this condition manifests in boys and girls, further research is still needed.
The limitations of the current study include the fact that the number of participants wasn’t large. It also didn’t study the impact some factors might have such as the time that has gone by since the traumatic event, the age during which the event took place, the severity of the said event, and the potential stressors that may have played a role in affecting brain development in both sexes.