21 Feb Gender Differences in Brain Connectivity and School Performance in Late Childhood
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Nora Volkow MD
Laboratory of Neuroimaging, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Dardo Tomasi PhD
Laboratory of Neuroimaging, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and
National Institute on Drug Abuse
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Girls tend to develop cognitive skills earlier and more quickly and to be more socially adept than boys. Studies have shown that girls tend to be better at recognizing emotions in others and expressing their own emotions in socially appropriate ways. Boys are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug experimentation than girls and are more prone to impulsive behaviors including truancy, driving while intoxicated. It is likely that this vulnerability reflects in part the slower development of brain regions necessary for self-regulation. The unbalance between emotional maturity and cognitive maturity increases the risk for impulsive actions seen in adolescents which varies based on context and genetics but its relevant for it’s a contributor to accidents which is the number one cause of death among teenager in the USA.
So, the study question was: do differences in cognition reflect difference in brain connectivity between boys and girls in late childhood?
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: We found that 9-10 years girls had higher brain connectivity that explained their higher cognitive performance compared to boys of the same age.
The main takeaway of the study is that there are small but measurable differences in brain connectivity that likely reflect a faster maturation for girls than boys at 9-11 years of age.
MedicalResearch.com: Are there practical implications ie for classrooms or parenting of this study?
Response: The faster cortical development in girls than boys and their associated higher cognitive performance indicate that at this age girls are better able to learn academic tasks than boys due to an earlier development of their brains. This has implications for how schools teach children and indicates that interventions tailored to the brain developmental stage might facilitate learning and performance.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?
Response: There are very few children 9-11 that suffer from an alcohol use disorder and none that were included as part of the ABCD study. Since ABCD is a prospective study, we are starting to see some alcohol and marihuana use among teenagers which we expect will be increasing in the next few years.
Future studies should also address the issue of transgender or non-binary kids. This information is available in the ABCD study and other researchers are looking into it. In our analyses we focused on the sex effects as assigned by birth but in the future, we can evaluate if these differences pertain or not to transgender children.
Citation: Tomasi D, Volkow ND. Measures of Brain Connectivity and Cognition by Sex in US Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(2):e230157. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.0157
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