Most of us would agree that males and females respond differently to stressful situations. While boys might cope by ignoring a problem and waiting for it to resolve itself, girls tend to respond by taking action and attempting do something about it. And while these responses are generalized and may even sound like stereotypes, research has found that there is some biological truth here. In fact, the differences in male and female responses to stress was recently documented in the womb!
Researchers at the University of Adelaide conducted studies of pregnant women who were under psychological stress or suffering from serious medical conditions to determine how their stress impacted the growth and development of their unborn babies. What they discovered was a fascinating difference in the way male and female fetuses responded when mom was having a hard time.
As the mother passed on the stress hormone cortisol through the placenta, male fetuses chugged along as if nothing were amiss, continuing to grow as quickly and as big as possible. Females, however, responded to the mother’s stress by slowing their own growth.
Vicki Clifton, who headed up the research team, says that when the mothers became even more stressed, baby girls ultimately fared better than their male counterparts.
“When there is another complication in the pregnancy – either a different stress or the same one again – the female will continue to grow on that same pathway and do OK, but the male baby doesn’t do so well and is at greater risk of pre-term delivery, stopping growing or dying in the uterus.”
Not only does this research confirm everything you may have ever suspected about male selfishness, it may also lead to “sex-specific therapies” that will help obstetricians treat mothers who are at risk for premature birth.
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