Neuropsychiatrist Explains Why Female Brains Are Different

By Sharon Brock

Louann Brizendine

UCSF Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD, spoke at UCSF Mission Bay last week about her research, which sheds light on differences between girls and boys and men and women. Brizendine focused the discussion on her best-selling book, The Female Brain, which she calls an "owner's manual" for women because it describes how specific hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, affect thoughts, behavior and a woman's perception of the world. Since hormone levels fluctuate in different stages of life, Brizendine, 54, addresses the sequential behavior changes during infancy, adolescence, motherhood and menopause. Among the interesting facts, Brizendine explained that girls' brains actually begin puberty 18 months to two years before their first menstruation. Boys experience a 25-fold increase in their testosterone level between the ages of nine and 15. Presented by the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women's Health and Women's Forum West, Brizendine's address was the third of a three-part series, "Aging Gracefully." Hear her entire speech here. Importantly, she noted that every brain begins as a female brain and that it only becomes a male brain eight weeks after conception, when excess testosterone shrinks the communication center, reduces the hearing cortex and makes the part of the brain that processes sex twice as large. Brizendine says hormones affect brain development in the womb, causing females to develop larger communication and emotional centers. Her findings also show that women use about 20,000 words per day, compared with 7,000 for men. Because of the larger emotional center, women sense what others are feeling more easily than men and remember emotional details of arguments that men never perceive in the first place.

Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine spoke at UCSF Mission Bay on March 27.
Photo/Sharon Brock

Another major difference between the male and female brain is how often sex is on the mind. Brizendine says that women think about sex about once every couple of days versus once per minute for males. By providing a greater awareness of the chemistry guiding women's impulses, Brizendine hopes that the book will help women understand why they are feeling a certain way during specific times in their lives, so they can make more cognizant choices and have more control over their behavior. She believes that this greater understanding will improve emotional and social IQ, and lead to improved relationships and better communication between the sexes. The Female Brain was published last August and has received considerable media attention, including making the Washington Post's Best Non-Fiction list in 2006. The book is now being translated into 19 languages. Along with being a clinical neuropsychiatrist for 20 years, Brizendine is a pioneer in female brain research, and founded the UCSF Women's and Teen Girls' Mood and Hormone Clinic in 1994. This clinic was the nation's first facility designed to assess and treat women of all ages experiencing disruption of mood, energy, anxiety, sexual function and well-being related to hormonal influences on the brain. Related Links: Louann Brizendine In The Female Brain, UCSF's Brizendine Describes How Women See the World
UCSF Today, July 27, 2006