The female brain is a "fabulous learning machine" that governs a woman's life from birth to birthing and beyond, says Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist and author of The Female Brain
Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Brizendine about what makes the female brain unique, as well as some of the fascinating changes that occur in the brain over the course of a woman's life. Here are just a few of her recent findings:
Birth of the female brain
The teen girl brain
- Up until eight weeks, every brain is female. In males, a huge testosterone surge hits and kills cells off in the communication center, and grows more cells in the sex and aggression centers.
- In females, huge amounts of estrogen spur brain growth and enhance circuits and centers for observation, communication, gut feelings and caring.
The mommy brain
- During puberty, a girl's primary purpose (from a biological standpoint) is to become sexually desirable and attractive.
- Girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys do and they also talk faster. Connecting through talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl's brain, Dr. Brizendine says
The mature female brain
- The brain shrinks during pregnancy—it does not lose cells but changes metabolism and restructures. Then in the final one to two weeks, the brain begins to increase in size again and construct maternal circuits. It does not return to its former size until about six months after giving birth. "We don't know what it's doing but we think it has something to do with redeveloping the mommy brain's circuits, but also maybe even letting the fetus 'snack' on the mommy's brain," Dr. Brizendine says.
Sex and emotions
- The "mommy brain" unplugs.
- Menopause means the end of the hormones that have boosted communication circuits, emotion circuits, the drive to tend and care, and the urge to avoid conflict at all costs.
- More than 65 percent of divorces after the age of 50 are initiated by women. Dr. Brizendine attributes this to something called "post-menopausal zest." "They want their turn, they want to go and do stuff that they're passionate about and step out in a more independent way—they don't want to be taking care of everybody else," she says.
- Female sexual turn-on begins with a brain turn-off: Orgasms can only be triggered when the amygdala (the fear and anxiety center) is turned off. "It requires turning off the worrywart circuits in the female brain to have an orgasm," Dr. Brizendine explains.
- For women, foreplay is everything that happens in the 24 hours before intercourse. "She needs to feel comfortable and loving towards her partner and everything in the relationship is alright, so you're reducing that amygdala's activation that something is dangerous or fearful," Dr. Brizendine says.
- Women have evolved to cry four times more easily than men. "The silent treatment is not a way, women, to get his attention," Dr. Brizendine says. "Crying is a way to get his attention that something is wrong and upsetting you."