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Trauma Effects Girls & Boys Differently


A new study has shown that girls and boys suffer the effects of trauma differently. This is in
the area of the brain which is connected with empathy and emotional awareness. The
researchers said that the part of the brain called the anterior circular sulcus was larger in boys
who had symptoms of trauma, compared to a control group of boys who hadn’t suffered from
trauma. However, it was the opposite in girls. The area of the brain was smaller in girls who
had experienced trauma. The scientists said they were surprised to see that “The boys and
girls were so clearly on different ends of the spectrum”, said Megan Klabunde, the lead
author of the study and a psychologist and neuroscience researcher at Stanford University
School of Medicine. When the researchers compared the size of the brain region in the boys
control group with the girls control group they found that the area was about the same size in
both groups. The researchers said that “exposure to traumatic stress may impact brain
development rates” differently in boys than in girls.

The researchers said that because the study was done at a particular point in time, they are not
sure if this is due to a cause-and- effect relationship in either boys or girls, between trauma
and the size of this brain region. During the study, they scanned the brains of 59 children
aged 9 to 17, using a type of scan called structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI).
There were 29 children in the control group, and there were 30 children in the group that had
symptoms of trauma, such as mood changes, and mentally re-living their traumatic events.
These children had experienced a traumatic event more than 6 months prior to the start of the
study. The scientists compared the size of the anterior circular sulcus which is in the part of
the brain known as the insula. This is connected to the person’s emotions, awareness and
empathy. “However, the insula doesn’t work in isolation, rather, this region is connected to
other parts of the brain, which are also involved in emotion processing and empathy” said
Megan Klabunde.

Studies have indicated that 8 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys have developed post-
traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives. The condition is more common in girls
than boys. This particular study had only a small number of participants and the research
didn’t examine the time of the trauma, or the age the child first experienced their traumatic
event. It also didn’t explore the severity of the trauma and other stressors that could have
affected changes in the brain. Further studies will hopefully explain how trauma affects other
brain structures connected to empathy, and if the effects are similar or different in males and
females the researchers said. More studies could help scientists determine the behavioural
differences between boys and girls. This could help psychiatrists to produce gender-specific
treatments for children who have suffered traumatic events, the researcher said.

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