Sex influences on material-sensitive functional lateralization in working and episodic memory: Men and women are not all that different

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Abstract

Research investigating the effects of sex on the lateralization of language functions has produced mixed results to date, with some studies finding sex differences and others not [Shaywitz, B.A., Shaywitz, S.E., Pugh, K.R., Constable, R.T., Skudlarski, P., Fulbright, R.K., Bronen, R.A., Fletcher, J.M., Shankweiler, D.P., Katz, L., et al., 1995. Sex differences in the functional organization of the brain for language.Nature373 607–609.; Frost, J.A., Binder, J.R., Springer, J.A., Hammeke, T.A., Bellgowan, P.S., Rao, S.M., Cox, R.W., 1999. Language processing is strongly left lateralized in both sexes. Evidence from functional MRI.Brain122 (Pt 2) 199–208.]. Further, few studies have evaluated how any such sex effects extend to tasks involving cognitive functions that may utilize language processes such as working and episodic memory. This study examined sex difference in material-sensitive functional activation (using fMRI) in working memory and episodic memory that included either words and faces. We performed these analyses on two large groups of healthy subjects with the goal of attempting to replicate results across two independent data sets. The results indicated that both males and females showed strong and consistent evidence for material-sensitive lateralization for both working and episodic memory, such that word tasks resulted in greater left-sided activation and face tasks resulted in greater right-sided activation. Further, few of the sex differences in regions showing material specificity effects in at least one gender replicated across studies, providing little evidence for any differences in lateralization patterns between the sexes. In conclusion, our data suggest that males and females show a similar pattern of lateralized activation to material type during working memory and recognition tasks.

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