Why Don’t Men Understand Women? Altered Neural Networks for Reading the Language of Male and Female Eyes
Men are traditionally thought to have more problems in understanding women compared to understanding other men, though evidence supporting this assumption remains sparse. Recently, it has been shown, however, that men’s problems in recognizing women’s emotions could be linked to difficulties in extracting the relevant information from the eye region, which remain one of the richest sources of social information for the attribution of mental states to others. To determine possible differences in the neural correlates underlying emotion recognition from female, as compared to male eyes, a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was applied to a sample of 22 participants. We found that men actually had twice as many problems in recognizing emotions from female as compared to male eyes, and that these problems were particularly associated with a lack of activation in limbic regions of the brain (including the hippocampus and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex). Moreover, men revealed heightened activation of the right amygdala to male stimuli regardless of condition (sex vs. emotion recognition). Thus, our findings highlight the function of the amygdala in the affective component of theory of mind (ToM) and in empathy, and provide further evidence that men are substantially less able to infer mental states expressed by women, which may be accompanied by sex-specific differences in amygdala activity.
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