Are Girls Easier to Raise Than Boys?

Question: How similar are opposite sex twins?

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Lise Eliot: Yeah, so I do talk a lot in the book about opposite sex twins because they have been a favorite research subject for people interested in the role of prenatal testosterone. We definitely know from other animals, and most of the work’s been done on rats and mice, that females who gestate next to males – These other species have large litters of eight or ten pups and researchers can actually compare a female that grows up next to two males versus a female that grows up next to two females and so on. And you can almost do a dose response of the amount of prenatal testosterone exposure because that’s what’s crossing from one fetus to the next. And it’s effects on certain features of behavior, particularly sexual behavior, when they hit at puberty.

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And you do see slight masculinization of females exposed to more testosterone and vice versa. So people have looked really closely at human opposite sex twins. And there’s a couple of hints that physiologically girls with male twins are slightly masculinized. And some of the best data comes from studies of the ear. We have these funny little sounds called auto acoustic emissions that our ears actually emit in response to an incoming sound. This is actually the basis of newborn hearing tests. So across the country now, almost all babies are screened at birth for hearing loss using these auto acoustic emissions. They can put a little sensitive earphone in there and hear whether the ear is putting out the right amount of sound. Well, girls have larger auto acoustic emissions than boys. Adult women have larger auto acoustic emissions than adult men. It has no relevance to our hearing ability but it’s a reliable sex difference.

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And so, I think it’s a couple of studies of opposite sex twins have found that girls with male twins have smaller auto acoustic emissions and are more boy like. There’s that. There’s a finding about the size of the teeth in girls with male twins are a little bit larger. What’s interesting to me is that behaviorally, when it comes to some of this toy choice that seems to be so importantly shaped by biological influences, girls with male twins are every bit as feminine as girls with girl twins. Similarly, when it comes to things like sexual orientation or even, you know, age of menstruation and hormonal things that you think might be shaped by prenatal testosterone, there are no fertility differences between women with males twins and not. So the consensus at the moment is that probably humans are not – Don’t share as much testosterone from one twin to the next as other animals do. But there may be something going on there and if it is, it just proves that culture and learning and rearing can potently override whatever little bit of testosterone exposure these girls get.

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Question: Is it more difficult to raise a boy or a girl?

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Lise Eliot: Well, again since my kids are getting older I think my experience lives up to the folklore that boys are harder when they’re younger and girls are harder when they’re older. Sorry, honey. Please don’t watch this. Certainly boys’ higher activity level is a challenge. And their climbing things, boys are certainly more likely to get into accidents and end up with stitches and broken bones because they’re more physically active and they’re bigger risk takers. And I think there is an innate component to that. I think there’s pretty good evidence that girls are more fearful than boys. But on top of that, there’s studies that have shown, both on the playground and in a laboratory situation, that parents are more cautious with daughters than sons. And they will permit the risk taking in boys more than girls.

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So it kind of – That’s the case where our parenting sort of reinforces this small difference. So, yes I did find – Well you know, I have two boys and they’re quite different actually. One of them, I won’t say which one, was a little more challenging in the earlier years although they’re both just angels now. And then, you know, I think the issues for girls at puberty are very challenging. In our culture and most cultures, they’re hit with the whole appearance and body image thing in a way that boys are not. So when you hit puberty and you start putting on weight, that’s fine if you’re a guy. In fact, that’s good as you get bigger and stronger and taller. It sort of gains status and increases your self esteem. For girls, we know in this anorexic ideal culture, it’s very challenging for girls.

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And it turns out, I talk about depression in the book because this is one of the bigger clinical sex differences. Up to puberty, boys and girls are about equally vulnerable to depression, but after puberty and throughout adulthood, women are about twice as vulnerable to major depression. You might think, it must be the hormones. You know, puberty, estrogen and progesterone start cycling but the evidence there is not very good that estrogen levels are responsible for mood disorders. In fact, stronger correlation comes from one’s body image and self esteem. So self esteem is very much shaped by body image and low body image is one of the biggest risk factors for girls in depression and obviously anorexia and bulimia. So the cultural impact at puberty is still harder on girls.

The neuroscience professor explains that parents are more cautious with daughters than sons, but females are technically easier to rear.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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