Genetics | News | Science

Gay Male Brain Found to Resemble Straight Female Brain

Calling it the "most robust measure" done of the differences in brain architecture and activity between gay and straight people, a Swedish researcher reports that gay people show striking similarities in brain structure and activity to heterosexual people of the opposite sex:

Gaybrain"First they used MRI scans to find out the overall volume and shapes of brains in a group of 90 volunteers consisting of 25 heterosexuals and 20 homosexuals of each gender. The results showed that straight men had asymmetric brains, with the right hemisphere slightly larger – and the gay women also had this asymmetry. Gay men, meanwhile, had symmetrical brains like those of straight women. The team next used PET scans to measure blood flow to the amygdala, part of the brain that governs fear and aggression. The images revealed how the amygdala connected to other parts of the brain, giving clues to how this might influence behaviour. They found that the patterns of connectivity in gay men matched those of straight women, and vice versa (see image, above right). In straight women and gay men, the connections were mainly into regions of the brain that manifest fear as intense anxiety. 'The regions involved in phobia, anxiety and depression overlap with the pattern we see from the amygdala,' says Savic. This is significant, she says, and fits with data showing that women are three times as likely as men to suffer from mood disorders or depression. Gay men have higher rates of depression too, she says, but it's difficult to know whether this is down to biology, homophobia or simply feelings of being 'different'."

New Scientist calls it "the most compelling evidence yet" that sexuality is a biologically fixed trait.

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  1. And once again, gay men are just like women. Not sure if this helps the cause or pushes us further back. We all know how this is going to play out. Then again, how can u make the case that gay is biology but then when the biology gets explained, it's not what you wanted to hear. screwed either way (and not in the good way)

    Posted by: marty | Jun 16, 2008 5:39:54 PM

  2. I've always kinda felt like a tomboy in a man's body. Guess this explains it. Hmm.

    That said, I think the sooner everyone can get past the "how" and the "why" of homosexuality and start focusing on what's really important--equality, humanity, and mutual understanding--the better.

    Posted by: Chas | Jun 16, 2008 5:50:54 PM

  3. phermone studies are also intresting.

    swedish scientists studied Androstadienone. It stimulated females and gay males. One study sprayed it on a chair and found females and gay males by and large siting in the sprayed chair as vs non sprayed chairs.

    Posted by: Jimmyboyo | Jun 16, 2008 5:56:41 PM

  4. This explains the "Sex and the City" phenomenon.

    Posted by: crispy | Jun 16, 2008 6:12:31 PM

  5. The "scent" of Samantha... :shudder:

    Posted by: JohnOB | Jun 16, 2008 6:22:35 PM

  6. This is not a negative at all. No matter how our brain works or what they are similar to, we are still the same people, but with the similarities this study found, it's simply more proof that there is a genetic cause for homosexuality. I agree with alot of what I've read, other than Marty being afraid we're "screwed". I don't know about y'all, but I've know I was gay or "different" since I was 8 years old. Proving to the haters that it's not a "choice" with a majority of us would, I think, help our cause and force government to recognize us and stop the discrimination.

    Posted by: Bobby | Jun 16, 2008 7:37:47 PM

  7. I agree with Chas. In any case, founding a rights movement on biology seems like a poor choice. Biology is rarely clear cut, and the ensuing interpretation could be horribly damaging.

    For me, this simply further illustrates the complexity of human sexual and sex expression (whether biology or socially-influenced biology). It also shows a need for a rights movement based more on liberty of personal expression than biology. Clear cut answers about human sexuality are not to be found in biology.

    Posted by: Robert | Jun 16, 2008 7:52:10 PM

  8. Science is science. Deal with it. If you don't like the result, go stick your head in the sand and hum showtunes.

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 16, 2008 7:56:28 PM

  9. This research is stupid and heavily influenced by pornographic correctness. By pornographic correctness, I mean the form of correctness which says that men are only gay or straight. My question is: what about bisexual men?

    Scientists need to stop trying to find physical explanations for why men are gay or straight. Their convenient neglect of male bisexuality suggests they have fallen for pornographic correctness.

    Posted by: jason | Jun 16, 2008 7:57:47 PM

  10. Yeah, what about male bisexuality? This research seems to be a bit of political correctness.

    Posted by: andrew | Jun 16, 2008 7:59:31 PM

  11. These studies always seem to gloss over what seems to be unique patterns in favor of shoe-horning gays into a male or female dichtomy. The right amygdala patterns for gay men and gay women were unlike *any* of the others patterns - yet what we hear about is how the left was like females' patterns.

    How many acquainances have gay men and women met who indulged in homosexual actvity and enjoyed it - but chose to live a straight life for other reasons? How many of these people participated in this study? The self-selection bias here seems much more significant than the scientists are willing to acknowledge.

    Posted by: kipp | Jun 16, 2008 8:02:29 PM

  12. Sloppy science, once again. What about bisexuals?

    I shudder at the thought that sexual identity would be reduced to "a fixed biological trait" and even moreso at political activists who would cling to arguments of biological essentialism as the foundation for equal treatment of sexual minorities in society.

    History is rife with examples of people whose persecution was based on an ideology that they were biologically different from the majority and therefore inferior: Blacks, Jews, women. Take your pick, they all end in the same sad story.

    Posted by: DrSivana | Jun 16, 2008 9:52:42 PM

  13. I call bullshit on this study. There's no way that brain physiology and volunteer self-assessments could match up so evenly and perfectly.

    They went looking for a difference between volunteers brains, knowing full well who the "straights" and "homos" were beforehand, and lo and behold, they found them! Eureka! A perfect correlation!

    What would be a lot more impressive - if the researchers could be given brain scans and then determine whether someone defines him or herself as gay or straight.

    Of course, if that could be done, then wide-spread screening campaigns could be set up. People found to have brains that don't correspond well with their physiological gender will be made to wear some kind of symbol, perhaps a black armband with a pink triangle on it. Eventually, deviants will be shipped off to special camps, away from the proper morally upstanding folk, where the final solution to the deviance can be implemented....

    Posted by: Chris | Jun 16, 2008 10:02:40 PM

  14. I for one, don't take issue with being compared to women. What I do have an issue with is what my bisexual friends and relatives (god knows there are so many) are supposed to take from this "study".

    Posted by: Shabaka | Jun 16, 2008 10:59:09 PM

  15. The media love reporting studies that show gay men are "just like women".

    I notice there hasn't been nearly as much coverage of the one finding that we have, on average, larger penises than straight men. One article I saw tried desperately to reach the preferred conclusion: "Oh, well there must be something wrong with their testosterone regulation in the womb--first too high and then too low."

    It's really laughable sometimes what passes for "science".

    Posted by: Sportin' Life | Jun 16, 2008 11:34:28 PM

  16. I have no idea whether this particular study is good or bad science, but speaking only personally, it makes sense to me. I've always felt that my brain was more in synch with the straight female brain than with the straight male brain. And I've always felt that my gayness was, more or less, biological. I welcome the science, and if future science completely contradicts this, I'll welcome that, too.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jun 16, 2008 11:41:29 PM

  17. as a gay man and a brain-imaging researcher, i feel compelled to respond to the comments.

    1) criticism for not including bisexual subjects.

    this was simply outside the scope of the study. when designing experiments, particularly when using methods with a lot of noise like non-invasive brain imaging, you want to make your comparisons as simple as possible to still show something interesting. you avoid confounds as much as possible. results from bisexuals would be interesting, certainly, but would be significantly more difficult to interpret--it's an obvious next step in the research, but i can't understand why anyone would be upset that they weren't included already. there's also good reason to suspect that results from bisexual men could be ambiguous--Rieger, Chivers and Bailey showed in 2005 that a large self-identified bisexual men did not show bisexual patterns of physical arousal in response to erotic imagery, most showed homosexual arousal patterns and the rest showed heterosexual patterns (this is not a claim that bisexual identity is invalid, just complicated). finally, running these sorts of studies is very expensive, especially considering how hard it can be to get funding for sexual research: recruiting another 40-50 participants is not an arbitrary decision.

    2) accusations of bias. the methods used in this paper are quantitative, not qualitative. the only human judgment used in the analysis was in setting the boundaries of brain regions on the MRI scans for the volumetric analysis, and this was done investigators who were unaware of the identity (gender, orientation) of the individual brain scans (i.e., blind experimenter).

    3) speculation about detecting individual sexual orientation. these are descriptive statistics, not predictive statistics. the reason they had 90 subjects is that these effect sizes are small, and you need big groups to reliably detect the differences between them. the statistics tell us that the differences are real, but they do not tell us anything like, "if your right hemisphere is more than 1% larger than your left, it means you're straight."

    Posted by: humanist | Jun 17, 2008 1:12:24 AM

  18. Humanist,

    Thank you for that lovely and informative comment. I find research into how our brains work to be simply fascinating. I must admit that I am slightly jealous of your job and skill set. It would be great to use bisexuals of varying degrees in the research as well. I have a friend who is bi-curious and likes a little play down there if you know what I mean and other friends who have sex with both men and women regularly (unless they are in a monogamous relationship of course).

    Posted by: Jason Young | Jun 17, 2008 2:50:19 AM

  19. Thank heavens an actual scientist jumped in to explain to you dolts how things actually work. Whenever I need a reminder that gays are just as unfathomably stupid as the general population about how science and technology actually work I come here for a little visit. Thanks y'all!

    Posted by: Blake | Jun 17, 2008 3:21:21 AM

  20. I don't have anything to add, except to ask if Jase thinks this new research means gay men are stupid? Did you really think nobody would notice that the person named "Andrew" who posted a mere two minutes after you was in fact you, Jase? You even put down the same email address for both "Jase" and "Andrew".


    Posted by: Glenn | Jun 17, 2008 4:27:55 AM


    thank you.

    generally, research hurts no one unless it be conducted by mengele or by those with an agenda, say someone funded by big pharma. i find that studies in the realm of sexuality continue to shore up the theory that sexuality is inborn. frankly, i don't understand the animosity or worse, hostility, that some on this thread have toward that endeavor. to see this as solely a civil rights issue adds fuel to the fire of religious fervency that says that we queers are like we are purely out of petulance.

    those studies that show similarities between the brain structures, specifically the size of the hypothalamus, of gay men and straight women are intriguing; likewise, the study by savic and colleagues that showed under imaging techniques that gay men's and straight women's brains react in a similar fashion to smells (pheromones).

    apparently, those on this thread who are offended by this study are inferring something that is not in the research. and that is the ridiculous notion that gay men are like women -- not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that. personally speaking, i embrace the hormones, the brain structures, the genetics, the stressors on my mom's uterus, and what-not that gifted me with the sensibilities that made me the big 'mo that i am. i wouldn't have it any other way.

    Posted by: nic | Jun 17, 2008 8:32:23 AM

  22. Lookin' out on the mornin' range, I used to feel so uninspired

    And when I knew I had face another day, Lord, it made me feel so tired

    Before the day I met you, life was so unkind

    Now, you're the key to my piece of mind

    'Cause you made me feel

    You made me feel

    You made me feel like a natural....

    Come on, sang it with me, THE QUEEN!...and Grandma' Mary: Queen of England, Scotland, Wales, Empress of India and Atlantic City, etc.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jun 17, 2008 9:30:42 AM

  23. It's "Plan 9 From Sweden"!

    "Your stupid female brains! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 17, 2008 10:21:44 AM

  24. i could be wrong, DERRICK, but isn't the lyric, "lookin' out at the mornin' RAIN"...?

    and while we're on the subject of musical gods and godesses, "excuse me while i kiss this guy". lol.

    Posted by: nic | Jun 17, 2008 10:58:57 AM

  25. Thanks, NIC, and ofcourse, you're right...what would Aretha be doing in Oklahoma?

    And it is Aretha's fault....'cause you know I hear perfectly--with the aid.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jun 17, 2008 11:04:24 AM

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