Transgender brains more closely resemble brains of the sex they align with, rather than what they were born with

Gender studies are leaving the college halls and heading into the lab. Increasingly, there have been more rigorous studies into how transgender people neurologically relate to the sex they identify with rather than their biological sex.

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Activists of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transvestite, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTTTI) community participate in a march against homophobia on May 17, 2018 in San Salvador. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)


Gender studies are leaving the college halls and heading into the lab. Increasingly, there have been more rigorous studies in how transgender people neurologically relate to the sex they identify with rather than their biological sex.  

From genetics to brain activity, scientists are delving into the complicated cultural, neurological and biological aspects of sex and gender. Public discourse can be divisive and often ends up muddling the real scientific inquiry into this subject. It’s a widely interdisciplinary field with many different voices contributing to understanding it in a variety of ways. For example, some people like, Siddhartha Mukherjee, physician and author believes that genes are highly influential in determining attributes of gender and sex identity. He states:

“It is now clear that genes are vastly more influential than virtually any other force in shaping sex identity and gender identity—although in limited circumstances a few attributes of gender can be learned through cultural, social, and hormonal reprogramming.”   

Others believe that they’ve found compelling evidence by studying brain activity in transgender people that closely resembles cisgender people they identify with more than their assigned sex at birth. 

 A study led by a Belgian University found that brain activity correlated to this neurological hypothesis. Read on to find out more about the study itself. 

 Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in Kolkata on July 13, 2014. Hundreds of LGBT activists particpated in the rally to demand equal social and human rights for their community and stop social discrimination. AFP PHOTO/ Dibyangshu Sarkar

Latest research out of University of Liege

Julie Bakker, who led the research, utilized 160 MRI scans of transgender people diagnosed with gender dysphoria when they were either kids or in their teens. These scans also measured the brain’s microstructures with a technique called diffusion tensor imaging.  

After all of these scans were made, they were then compared with people of the same age who had not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The study found that transgender boys’ and transgender girls’ brain activity corresponded to both cisgender boys and girls. The MRI tests examined brain activity after an exposure to a steroid and measured gray matter as well.  

Bakker believes that this research could be used to help children at an earlier day who’re diagnosed with gender dysmorphia. Bakker stated: 

"Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD, as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender.”

The study’s results aligned with previous studies after it was presented at the European Society of Endocrinology. The analysis further revealed that these neurological differences are detectable at a younger age. Scientists believe that with this new research they’ll be able to offer better advice to young people with GD as this is estimated to affect one percent of the population according to the Gender Identity Development Service.  

Former US soldier, whistleblower, transgender Chelsea Manning speaks at the digital media convention 're:publica' in Berlin, on May 2, 2018. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Further corroboration with other studies

With mounting studies claiming to be able to determine gender through brain scans, many people feel that this would be a great way to help them understand their identity. The neurological activity could be a way of objectively telling what a person defines themselves as from their brain.  

In the University of California, San Diego – Laura Case also wanted to test the same idea with an MRI. Laura tested eight trans men (biologically female) against eight cisgender women – who were used as a control group.  

Laura found that the trans men had lessened activity in a region of the brain called the supramarginal gyrus. This is an area in the brain which is responsible for giving us a sense of what body parts belong to us. The results may propose that this is less active in transgendered people.

Eventually, more research is planned as gender identity could one day be determined by brain scans alone – if these studies hold up to peer review and scientific scrutiny.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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