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There Is No Difference Between Male and Female Brains, Study Finds

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Colors indicate the volumes of brain regions: green indicates large, and yellow indicates small. Image credit: Courtesy of Zohar Berman and Daphna Joel

A new study dispels the myths that there’s anything fundamentally different about men's and women’s brains. In fact, most people have some sort of mix of brain features typically categorized as “male” or “female,” researchers from Israel, Germany, and Switzerland found. 

The study, published in the journal PNAS, argues that if there were really such a thing as male and female brains, there wouldn’t be much overlap in the characteristics of the two—people would show either only male or only female characteristics. However, after examining the brains of 1400 people aged 13 to 85 years old in terms of their composition of gray matter, white matter, and connections, the researchers found that very few people were clustered on the extreme ends of the spectrum of features typically associated with males and females. Rather, there was a lot of overlap. While some features were more common in female brains and others in males, most people have a mix of the two. 

The science of sex differences in the brain is complicated, and hotly debated. Previous studies have indicated that men and women might have different proportions of white and gray matter in their brains or differences in how regions of their brains are connected. One study published in 2014 claimed these differences in functional connectivity underlie superior performance on spatial tasks in men and emotional recognition skills in women. Others argue that these differences are minuscule at best, and many studies subtly reinforce gender stereotypes through poor design, like not taking into account the varied experiences of the men and women tested, such as whether different hobbies or education might underlie their performance on social cognition or spatial processing tasks. 

Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain,” the current study’s authors write. “[W]e should shift from thinking of brains as falling into two classes, one typical of males and the other typical of females, to appreciating the variability of the human brain mosaic.” 

[h/t New Scientist]

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Medicine
The World's First VR Brain Surgery Is Here
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A lot of consumers are focused on virtual reality as a means of immersing themselves in games or traveling to exotic locales, but the technology holds some incredible potential as a learning tool. One recent—and graphic—example is VR brain surgery, which allows viewers to examine the amygdala like they never thought possible.

In the experience, which was produced and overseen by Fundamental VR at the Royal London Hospital, users will be able to follow along with surgeons as a patient is wheeled into the operating room and undergoes a real neurosurgical procedure to repair two aneurysms (balloon-like bulges in an artery that can rupture). Cameras installed in the OR and GoPro units on the surgeons provide a first person-perspective; you can also switch to the POV of the patient as instruments enter and exit your field of view.

The idea was embraced by surgeons at Royal London, who see it as having the potential to be a valuable training tool for neurosurgeons by mimicking "hands on" experience. Although the footage is best seen using a VR headset, you can get a feel for the experience in the YouTube footage below. Did we mention it's very, very graphic?

More sophisticated versions of the program—including tactile feedback for users—are expected to be implemented in Fundamental VR's surgical training programs in the future. Currently, programs like Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP) are being used at major institutions like Stanford University and University of California, Los Angeles to map the brain prior to incision.

If this whets your appetite for witnessing brain operation footage, don't forget we filmed and broadcast a live brain surgery in partnership with National Geographic. You can still check it out here.

[h/t Wired]

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Health
How Dangerous Is a Concussion?
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It's not football season, but the game is still making headlines: In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, neuropathologist Ann McKee and her colleagues examined the brains of 111 N.F.L. players and found 110 of them to have the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The condition has been linked to repeated blows to the head—and every year in the U.S., professional and novice athletes alike receive between 2.5 and 4 million concussions. This raises the question: What happens to the human brain when we get a concussion or suffer a hard blow to the head, and how dangerous are these hits to our long-term health?

Expert Clifford Robbins explains in the TED-Ed video below:

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