Boys and girls have very different psychological responses to stress and should be treated differently as a result, new research suggests.
Scientists at Stanford University in the US scanned the brains of 59 children aged nine to 17, and found that girls who had been through a traumatic experience tended to have a particularly small insula – a part of the brain that deals with emotions and empathy.
In traumatised boys, however, the insula was larger than usual.
These findings could explain why girls are more likely than boys to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment,” says Dr Megan Klabunde, the lead author on the study.
PTSD can develop after a range of traumatic events, from being in a car accident to experiencing bullying. A recent study by scientists at Imperial College London found that nearly four in 10 women who had experienced a miscarriage suffered from PTSD.
Symptoms of the disorder can include flashbacks, nightmares, overwhelming anxiety, difficulty sleeping and disordered eating.
This isn’t the first report to suggest that boys and girls differ in how they respond to stressful situations – or what they find stressful in the first place. A 2006 study found that adolescent girls reported higher levels of stress than boys overall, and that their stress generally stemmed from romantic and social relationships.
Girls also usually dealt with stress by using supporting seeking and active coping strategies, such as asking for help and taking action to reduce the stress.
Boys, in contrast, tended to feel most stressed about conflicts with authority figures, such as teachers – and handled stress by avoiding the issue entirely or seeking distractions.
If you think you might be experiencing PTSD, you can seek advice and support here.