Monday, January 22, 2007

Altruism and the Brain

"Are you a giver? Brain scan tells the truth."

Or so the headline of a recent article on altruism and the brain declares. With the recent hype around gender differences and the brain, and the fact that many fMRI studies include men only, I thought it was prudent to find out if women were part of this 45 person study, and if so, did the researchers find any gender differences.

One of the authors of the study published in Nature, Scott Huettel, Ph.D, responded to my email inquiry:
Our subject sample - not all college students, although all were 35 and under - comprised 25 males and 20 females. We looked at gender effects, but found no significant influence on either brain activation in key regions or on the relation to altruism. Now, of course, this does not mean that there are no gender differences in altruism nor in the function of these regions; it just means that our study doesn't provide any evidence for such gender effects.

Thank you, Dr. Huettel.

As with my previous post on the importance of including women in heart clinical trials, it is critical that we study the female brain as well. We don't want to wake up twenty years from now, as we have with heart disease, and need to promote a "National Wear Grey Day" because we didn't have the data we needed on how to treat women for depression, Alzheimer's, and a whole host of other neurological diseases.

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