Sex and Chocolate on the Brain


In an article entitled ‘People-person’ brain area found, “scientists say they have located the brain areas that may determine how sociable a person is. Warm, sentimental people tend to have more brain tissue in the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes and in a structure deep in the brain’s centre. These are the same zones that allow us to enjoy chocolate and sex, the Cambridge University experts report in the European Journal of Neuroscience. The work suggests that some people may get a similar buzz from being sociable.”

A heady mix…

But what interests me about this are the thoughts of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, my favourite author on gender. He says,

“This is an important study in showing that the degree to which we find socializing rewarding is correlated with differences in brain structure. It reminds us that for some people, socializing is an intrinsic reward, just like chocolate or cannabis. And that what you find rewarding depends on differences in the brain. This research teaches us about individual differences in a typical sample, but has implications for our understanding of clinical conditions like autism, where socializing may be less rewarding.”

Baron-Cohen is famous for establishing a link between the scientific brain and autism, a condition that disproportionately affects the male of the species. I’ve reviewed his book The Essential Difference in an earlier blog. His main point is that women possess this people-person ‘E-type’ or empathizer brain, while men tent to have the scientific ‘S-type’ or systematizer brain. But there are variations within and even between types. Some men will, for instance, score better in an empathy test than some women.

For me, two questions remain unanswered.

This study was carried out on male volunteers. Will further studies find significant neurological sex differences here, with females generally more developed in these brain areas?

And the study was ambivalent as to whether brain differences were a result of birth or experience. With the discvoery of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections – how will you be able to tell?

I’m only asking…

Image credit: 7oO7oO.