Tag Archives: #gender

More Than 60 Years to Achieve Gender Equity? (Psychology / Astronomy)

MODELLING SHOWS URGENT NEED TO REVAMP HIRING AND WORKING CONDITIONS FOR ASTRONOMERS

It will take until at least 2080 before women make up just one-third of Australia’s professional astronomers, an analysis published today in the journal Nature Astronomy reveals.

“Astronomers have been leaders in gender equity initiatives, but our programs are not working fast enough,” says Professor Lisa Kewley, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).

Kewley is also an ARC Laureate Fellow at the Australian National University’s Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics. She developed workforce forward modelling that can predict the fraction of women at all levels in astronomy from 2021 to 2060, given different initiatives in hiring or retention. The models show that Australia’s university leadership need to adopt 50:50 or affirmative action hiring and introduce exit surveys and retention initiatives.

“With these initiatives we can reach one-third women in 11 years, growing to 50 per cent in 25,” she said.

“The gender gap in astronomy is not unique to Australia. This is a worldwide issue, particularly at senior levels.

“The fraction of women in senior astronomy positions in the US, Germany, Canada, Australia, China and the UK has sat at 20 per cent or less for decades – even though women earn about 40 per cent of the PhDs in the field.”

She said that female astronomers leave the industry two to three times more frequently than their male counterparts. Those who remain find advancement challenging due to a lack of senior role models at universities, and because they are often overlooked for invited seminars, grants, awards, and all-important telescope time.

In 2014, the Astronomical Society of Australia took steps to improve the ratio of women to men being hired and retained by introducing a gender equality rating system called the Pleiades Awards. The scheme triggered widespread change in many universities and other astronomy-centred research institutions.

These have made a difference, said Dr Anshu Gupta, an ASTRO 3D Fellow at Curtin University in Western Australia.

“I think the barriers to women in the field are lower than they used to be, but there are still serious reforms needed to retain and promote talented junior female academics into senior positions,” she said.

Some institutions have also introduced hiring practices designed to attract and retain women. ASTRO 3D and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) have hiring ratios of 50:50. The University of Sydney School of Physics recently hit a target of 78 per cent women appointed to permanent positions.

But hiring is not enough, Professor Kewley’s research shows. Retention initiatives are also needed to stem the flow of women out of the sector.

She said that successful retention policies include exit surveys, improving work-life balance for department members, clear action against sexism, insults, microaggression, exclusionary behaviour, and the removal of structural barriers by creating more permanent and fewer fixed-term positions.

“If this sort of program becomes widespread, the discipline can reach the 30 per cent target in a decade or so,” said Professor Kewley.

ANU Vice Chancellor and Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt commented:

“We as university leaders need to step up in areas like astronomy, but also across all the academic areas in our institutions where the male-female imbalance is large.

“Professor Kewley’s research shows that workforce forward modelling is highly effective way to assess the potential impact and utility of new diversity policies and initiatives. I encourage my peers across the research sector to take a close look and use the tools to drive positive change.”

Featured image: Professor Lisa Kewley.
Credit: ASTRO 3D


Reference: Kewley, L.J. Closing the gender gap in the Australian astronomy workforce. Nat Astron (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01341-z


Provided by Astro3D

Oxytocin Determines Smell of Gender (Biology)

An important means for animals to find their mates is by smelling: they pick up whiffs of sex pheromones released by their conspecifics, which convey to them the senders’ sex and reproductive status. What drive the release and detection of sex pheromones are the animals’ internal physiological states, more specifically, the levels of certain neuropeptides and hormones.

Humans also give off complex scents and communicate chemically at the subconscious level. An earlier study conducted by the Human Olfaction Lab at the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) showed that androstadienone, associated with men, subconsciously signals masculinity to straight women and gay men, whereas estratetraenol, from women, signals femininity to straight men.

Researchers there have since taken a further step to probe the neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying such human chemosensory communications of masculinity and femininity. They studied the effects of two structurally similar neuropeptides called oxytocin (known as the “cuddle hormone”) and vasopressin. Both are produced by the hypothalamus, a brain area that controls the basic drives, and are heavily involved in a range of reproductive and social behaviors in animals and humans.

In a new study, Drs. CHEN Kepu, Ye Yuting, and their colleagues systematically tested 216 straight men and gay men over a total of 1056 sessions. The participants were nasally administered with different doses of oxytocin, vasopressin, or an antagonist for both oxytocin and vasopressin receptors called atosiban.

They then viewed point-light displays of human gaits and made forced-choice gender judgments under the exposure to androstadienone, estratetraenol, or a control solution that smelled indistinguishable from the androstadienone and estratetraenol solutions.

Basically, the researchers assessed how different intranasal drug manipulations, which essentially altered the levels of oxytocin and/or vasopressin in the brain, acted on the extent to which androstadienone or estratetraenol swayed one’s gender perception.

Results showed that oxytocin modulates both the decoding of feminine information carried by estratetraenol in straight men and that of masculine information carried by androstadienone in gay men, in an inverted-U-shaped manner – too little or too much oxytocin would inhibit our subconscious decoding of these sexual chemosignals.

In addition, the effect of intranasal oxytocin also depends on one’s social proficiency, which, according to previous research, partially manifests his/her endogenous oxytocin level. Vasopressin, on the other hand, plays no role regardless of its dose. Intranasal atosiban, the antagonist of both oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, blocks the chemical communications of masculinity and femininity.

“There is a causal link between neuroendocrine factors and subconscious chemical communications of sex-specific information in humans,” said Dr. CHEN.

The study was published in a paper titled “Oxytocin modulates human chemosensory decoding of sex in a dose-dependent manner” on Jan 13 on eLife.

It was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences and the Strategic Priority Research Program of CAS, and the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission.

Featured image: Oxytocin, but not vasopressin, regulates whether one can sniff out their preferred sex. (Image by YE Yuting)


Reference: Kepu Chen, Yuting Ye, Nikolaus Troje, Wen Zhou, “Oxytocin modulates human chemosensory decoding of sex in a dose-dependent manner“, ELife, 2021. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.59376


Provided by Chinese Academy of Sciences

Sleep Disorders: Patients Often Underestimate Their Total Sleep Time (Neuroscience)

Misperceptions most prevalent in insomnia patients

People with sleep disorders commonly have a misperception about their actual sleep behaviour. A research group led by Karin Trimmel and Stefan Seidel from MedUni Vienna’s Department of Neurology (Outpatient Clinic for Sleep Disorders and Sleep-Related Disorders) analysed polysomnography results to identify the types of sleep disorder that are associated with a discrepancy between self-reported and objective sleep parameters and whether there are any factors that influence this. The main finding: irrespective of age, gender or screening setting, insomnia patients are most likely to underestimate how long they sleep. The study has been published in the highly regarded Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Patients’ misperceptions about the actual time that they sleep is a well-known phenomenon in sleep research. Their own impression of their sleep behaviour is often quite different from that demonstrated by clinical measurements. Nonetheless, until now there had been no scientific comparison between patients’ actual total sleep time and their self-reported sleep time that also analysed the associated factors.

A research group led by neurologists Karin Trimmel and Stefan Seidel from MedUni Vienna’s Outpatient Clinic for Sleep Disorders and Sleep-Related Disorders has now retrospectively analysed patient consultations from between 2012 and 2016 and polysomnograms (PSG) of a representative group of 303 sleep clinic patients, 49% of whom were women. 32% were suffering from the commonest sleep disorder, insomnia, 27% from sleep-related breathing disorders, 15% from sleep-related movement disorders, 14% from hypersomnia/narcolepsy and 12% from parasomnias. A PSG measures depth of sleep, muscle activity and breathing over the course of the night. It can be performed in the sleep lab or as ambulatory tests, where the patients sleep at home.

There was found to be a discrepancy between self-reported perception and objective readings in all sleep disorders, although it was largest in the case of insomnia, irrespective of age, sex or whether the monitored night was spent in the sleep lab or at home. Insomnia patients overestimate their sleep latency, that is to say the time it takes them to fall asleep, and significantly underestimate the amount of total sleep time. A constantly elevated level of background stress (hyperarousal) could be a factor in this, since this would result in disrupted sleep architecture (increased number of microarousals), as well as the fact that insomnia is often associated with psychiatric comorbidities. In contrast to insomnia patients, patients with other sleep disorders tended to underestimate their sleep latency and overestimate their total sleep time.

The study corroborates the clinical observation that sleep misperception occurs in all forms of sleep disorder but is most prevalent in insomnia. The treatment of choice in this instance is cognitive behavioural therapy. Karin Trimmel explains: “By incorporating this misperception into behavioural therapy, we can significantly improve treatment outcomes, so that polysomnography is highly recommended for patients with treatment-resistant insomnia.”


Reference: Trimmel K, Eder HG, Böck M, Stefanic-Kejik A, Klösch G, Seidel S. The (mis)perception of sleep: factors influencing the discrepancy between self-reported and objective sleep parameters. J Clin Sleep Med. 2021 Jan 4. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.9086. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33393901. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33393901/


Provided by Medical University of Vienna

Why Do Girls Like Pink? (Neuroscience)

Recent research on gender development is reviewed.

In a recent article, published in the November 2020 issue of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Melissa Hines of the University of Cambridge reviews the latest findings on the development of gender, such as the role of testosterone and socialization and how the two interact (e.g., why girls tend to like the color pink). The present post is a selective summary of this review.

Girl in a pink dress ©Freedesignfile

Testosterone and gender development

Let us begin with hormones. Hormones can have a temporary effect on development—an effect that rises and falls depending on the hormone concentration. For instance, estrogen has feminizing effects (e.g., breast development) at puberty.

Hormones can also have organizational influences, causing changes that persist even when the hormone is no longer present.

Testosterone is one hormone with such organizational influences.

Consider the effects of testosterone early in life. The concentration of testosterone is much higher in males than females, particularly from week 8 to week 16 or 24 of pregnancy, and from the first to the third month of infancy.

These are probably the critical periods during which testosterone causes sex-related organizational influences, ultimately reducing female-typical and increasing male-typical behaviors.

Since testosterone influences attributes that show sex differences, it may be helpful to know which behaviors show the largest average sex differences. Those would be gender role behaviors (e.g., preferred toys, sex of playmates), sexual orientation, and gender identity (one’s sense of self as female or male or both). Other characteristics often showing large sex differences include cognitive spatial abilities, empathy, dominance, and physical aggression.

Most of the findings on the effects of testosterone come from animal research or the study of genetic variations in humans. One such genetic variant is congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH).

CAH is associated with high levels of testosterone exposure. Compared to unaffected females, females with CAH show more male-typical gender role behaviors and are more likely to be bisexual or homosexual. It has been estimated that about 2 percent ultimately identify as men, which is a much larger percentage than the overall population estimate.

Socialization and gender development

Early testosterone exposure is not the only factor influencing gender behavior. Both self-socialization and external socialization are important too.

External socialization refers to the effects of encouragement of particular kinds of activities by other people (e.g., parents, friends, classmates, teachers).

For example, parents often buy their children toys perceived as gender-appropriate. A recent study of the room contents of 2- to 6-year-old American children found “boys’ rooms contained more play guns, tools, and machines for pretend play; spatial-temporal objects; sports equipment; and vehicles,” while “girls’ rooms contained more dolls, costume jewelry and dress-up clothes, ruffles, and floral furnishings.”

Once they know their sex, children also self-socialize, meaning they imitate the choices of people of their own sex in order to behave in ways expected of them. For instance, they prefer activities and objects favored by those of their sex and show a liking of objects they are told are for their sex (e.g., “dolls are for girls, not boys”).

Interactions of testosterone and socialization: Pink vs. blue

Gender development is also shaped by the interaction between socialization and testosterone. A good illustration concerns color preference (i.e., pink for girls and blue for boys).

Color preference appears to be mostly absent in children younger than 2, even though they seem to show a preference for gender-typical objects (e.g., toys vs. dolls).

The gender difference in color preference seems to emerge between ages 2 and 3. During the next couple of years, this difference becomes larger as children become more deeply aware of themselves as boys or girls, “learning that this will not change over time or if they engage in other-gender activities.”

By adulthood, the pink/blue color preference shows less of a sex difference. Though women, compared to men, still show a marginally greater preference for pink, both male and female adults prefer blue to pink.

This suggests a female preference for pink is not hardwired or sculpted by evolution. So how does this interest for pink develop?

One theory suggests color preference results from the association between colors and emotionally pleasant experiences. And this is partly due to socialization.

Specifically, as Hines notes, “children may learn to like the colors of the toys that are typed for their own sex, pink for girls, and anything but pink for boys, contributing to the stronger preference for pink in girls than in boys.”

In addition, “Girls also may identify strongly with their assigned sex during early childhood, and so may show particularly strong preferences for pink compared to older ages.”

The female preference for pink declines over time as girls have more opportunities to engage with objects not color-coded for their use and as they develop a deeper understanding of their gender.

Concluding thoughts on gender development

Some people believe gender-related behaviors are mainly caused by biological factors (nature), while others believe they are mainly caused by social and environmental factors (nurture).

However, if we were to think of gender-related behaviors in developmental terms, we could see how gender development is affected by numerous influences that interact. An early change in one part of the system, especially during critical periods in development, might significantly reduce or increase the effect of another factor later on.

These changes might concern seemingly trivial differences, like color preference (pink vs. blue), or more significant ones, like empathy, spatial ability, and aggression.

This article is originally written by Arash Emamzadeh and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses. To read original click here.

Humans Have Used Drugs With Sex for Millennia – the Reasons Are Much Broader Than You Think (Medicine)

On their own, sex and drugs are cultural taboos. Combining them only adds to our reluctance to talk about them. But understanding how sex and drugs are connected isn’t something we should shy away from or perceive as deviant.

Despite its long history, our understanding of the relationship between sex and drugs remains limited. Credit: Shutterstock/Panu Kosonen

Humans have intentionally used drugs to facilitate and enhance their sexual experiences for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used extracts from the blue lotus flower to increase sexual desire. More recently, in the 1960s, psychedelic advocate Timothy Leary stated: “LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered by man”.

Despite this long history, our understanding of the relationship between sex and drugs remains limited. Researchers have traditionally had a tendency to focus on associations between drug use and “risky” sexual behaviour, such as lack of condom use or having multiple sexual partners.

Studies have also highlighted links between drug use and “impaired” sexual function, such as difficulties in maintaining an erection or achieving an orgasm. This leaves us with a picture of sex on drugs that is disproportionately focused on the negatives.

Beyond chemsex

More recently research exploring the relationship between sex and drugs has focused on “chemsex”. Chemsex usually refers to men who have sex with other men using drugs like methamphetamine or mephedrone to enhance and prolong their sexual experience.

While this is important, it doesn’t capture the experiences of people who have different gender and sexual identities. Harm reduction campaigns about combining sex and drugs is targeted at gay and bisexual men, meaning that other groups who engage in this activity are unlikely to take such information on board.

Because of the emphasis on chemsex, we know little about women’s experiences of sex on drugs and what enhancement might look and feel like in these contexts. Since the FDA approval of Viagra for treating erectile dysfunction in the 1990s, there have been calls for the development of a female counterpart. But what medical condition such a drug might “treat” for people with vaginas is unclear.

Sex and sexuality

Our restricted view of the relationship between sex and drugs is beginning to be corrected as new research emerges attending to pleasure and benefit.

One recent study reveals a diverse group of people across a range of sexual and gender identities who use drugs to enhance sex, with equally diverse motivations and experiences. For some it was about improving emotional connection, while for others desire was heightened or bodily sensations were increased. Some also found that sex enhanced the experience of drugs as well as drugs enhancing the sexual experience. The study demonstrates the limitations of thinking about sexual enhancement in purely physical terms by highlighting the ways that drugs can enhance emotional aspects of sex.

Studies have demonstrated the limitations of thinking about sexual enhancement in purely physical terms. petrov-k/Shutterstock

Another study explores how LGBTQ people use drugs to transform and enhance their experiences of gender, often in relation to sex. Drugs allowed them to express their gender and sexual identities in different ways and challenge traditional binaries. For many of the participants drugs provided the opportunity to play and experiment with gender, with some gay men describing the liberation and social bonding of putting on drag while using drugs.

The drugs we use with sex

The drugs that people combine with sex tend to reflect wider substance consumption patterns. Using data from the Global Drug Survey, a 2019 study found that the three most commonly used drugs with sex were alcohol, cannabis and MDMA respectively. This was true for participants across gender and sexual identity categories. The study also found that while the use of “chemsex drugs” (methamphetamine, mephedrone and GHB/GBL) with sex was highest among gay and bisexual men, other groups also report having sex on these drugs.

Alcohol is the drug that most people will be familiar with and some may have intentionally used it to relax prior to sex. For the most part, alcohol is used to facilitate sex whereas drugs are used to enhance the experience. However some will use combinations of drugs rather than sole use of a substance.

Alcohol and cocaine are used in combination – as cocaine is a stimulant, it offsets the depressive effect of alcohol. Cocaine, like other stimulants such as methamphetamine, is used to prolong the sexual experience.

Chemsex usually refers to men who have sex with other men using drugs like methamphetamine or mephedrone. Nito/Shutterstock

Illicit or recreational drugs aren’t the only ones used for sex, some medications are too. The pain killer Tramadol is known to be effective in overcoming premature ejaculation in men, although some use this drug without a prescription or medical supervision.

Understanding the benefits of using drugs to enhance sexual experiences is an important topic of research in its own right, albeit a neglected one up to now.

But further knowledge of pleasure and how it works could help us to understand the sex-related problems people experience too. It would be a shame if our cultural shyness about sex and drugs prevented us from improving an aspect of life we all have the right to experience.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Women Want, What Men Want (Psychology)

Sex differences in what men and women find attractive in an opposite sex partner have consistently shown that men have a preference for physically attractive women, with women showing a preference for men with wealth, power, and earning potential.  Furthermore, women, more than men, have been found to settle for partners lower in terms of physical unattractiveness, provided they possess earning potential or wealth.

©Getty Images

These sex differences in preferences for romantic partners have been observed across various different cultures and can be explained in evolutionary terms as being a mating strategy adopted for selecting a partner able to maximize the health, strength and fitness of any potential offspring. For example, men with wealth or earning potential are better able to support and care for their offspring than men with less wealth and lower earning potential.

Social role theory presents another explanation for the sex differences in preference for either wealth or physical attractiveness described above. This theory suggests that the different roles which men and women adopt or are expected to adopt within a society, ultimately determine their relative preferences for different qualities in a romantic partner. Furthermore, are these gender differences still evident in a world of greater gender equality, where women have greater earning potential themselves and therefore may have little or no need to rely on the financial resources of a male partner? 

Does female earning potential matter?

The issue of whether gender preferences for either physical attractiveness or wealth in romantic partners are determined by evolution or whether such preferences are now mitigated in societies with greater gender equality, was investigated by Lingshan Zhang and colleagues (Zhang, Lee, DeBruine & Jones, 2019). In their study, they employed over 900 male and over 2,000 female heterosexual participants from a variety of 36 countries who completed either or both of a trait-rating mate preference task and a trait-ranking mate preference task.

In the trait rating task, participants were required to rate on a scale ranging between indispensable to irrelevant or unimportant, various characteristics in terms of how important they were when choosing a romantic partner. Example traits included such things as being a good cook and housekeeper, emotional stability, good financial prospects, good looks, desire for home and children, love, good health and intelligence.

In the trait ranking task participants were asked to place traits in order of desirability from most desirable to the least desirable those traits possessed by a person they might seek to marry.  Example traits were exciting personality, good cook and housekeeper, intelligent, good earning capacity, college educated, and physically attractive.

Replicating a previous study by Eagly & Wood, (1999) the researchers only analysed participants’ preferences for good earning capacity, physical attractiveness and domestic skills, which were represented by the traits good financial prospects, physically attractive and good cook and housekeeper.

Gender equality measures for the 36 countries the researchers surveyed were assessed in two ways. The United Nations Gender Inequality Index which measures inequalities in reproductive health, empowerment (political positions and secondary education of each gender) and economic status (employment). The Gender Development Index measures differences in living standards, health and knowledge for each gender.

Sex differences in mate preferences

Overall, the researchers found sex differences in participants’ desirability for physical attractiveness and good earning potential in romantic partners to be similar to those reported in previous studies supporting the evolutionary model of mate preferences. More specifically, women desired good earning capacity in men more than men did in women, while men desired physical attractiveness in women more than women did in men. Such differences were similar for both the trait-ranking and the trait-rating methods. 

In this study at least, the findings indicate that sex differences for male and female mate preferences in terms of earning potential and physical attractiveness still prevail. The researchers found no sex differences in preferences for partners with good domestic skills that remained relatively equal for men and women.

Countries with greater gender equality

However, the real issue involved an examination of sex preferences for wealth and physical attractiveness in countries with greater gender equality, and so did the above finding still hold for such countries or did it vary? 

When the researchers looked at this, they found little evidence of any variation in the typical sex differences in male and female preferences for physical attractiveness in countries where there was greater gender equality. That is men reported a higher preference for physical attractiveness in women, than women did in men.  

However, they did find that gender differences in preferences for wealth in a partner was smaller in countries with greater gender equality.  This finding was only observed with the trait ranking and not the trait rating method.  Overall, these findings provide partial support for the notion that a woman’s earning potential or financial capacity reduces her preference for a male partner with similar qualities.

The message seems to be that males still display a preference for physical attractiveness in a female romantic partner more than females rate the same quality in a male partner, and this finding prevails across various cultures. However, the long-known female preference for earning capacity in a male partner seems to decline in cultures of greater gender equality, where women have the potential for greater earning potential.

References: (1) Eagly, A. H. & Wood, W. (1999) The origins of sex differences in human behaviour: Evolved dispositions versus social roles. American Psychologist, 54, 408. (2) Zhang, L., Lee, A. J., DeBruine L. M. & Jones, B. C. (2019) Are Sex Differences in Preferences for Physical Attractiveness and Good Earning Capacity in Potential Mates Smaller in Countries with Greater Gender Equality? Evolutionary Psychology, 17 (2). 1-6.

This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Jacky Dragon Moms’ Time In The Sun Affects Their Kids (Biology)

A study of maternal body condition potentially links environmental temperature to offspring traits.

A new study conducted at the University of New South Wales and published in the November/December 2020 issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology sheds light on a possible connection between an animal’s environmental conditions and the traits of its offspring. The study, Maternal Temperature, Corticosterone, and Body Condition as Mediators of Maternal Effects in Jacky Dragons (Amphibolurus muricatus), focused on how maternal condition and stress hormone (corticosterone) levels in jacky dragons (Amphibolurus muricatus) potentially translate a mom’s heat exposure to effects on her offspring.

Jacky Dragon. ©UNSW Sydney. Photo: Lisa Schwanz.

Ectothermic species, such as lizards, often rely on external heat sources to manage their body temperature. It turns out that maternal temperature can affect offspring traits such as gender and the rate of growth. While those trait changes have been documented, the means by which information passes from parent to offspring are poorly known.

Maternal effects theory, in particular, has helped answer a number of important biological questions related to evolution. However, the mechanisms for how those effects take place has not been nearly as well-developed, leading to unanswered questions concerning proximate physical causes.

“Mechanisms by which thermal information can be passed onto offspring have been underexplored,” writes the study’s author, Gracie Liu. “Here, we investigated corticosterone as a potential mediator of thermal maternal effects.”

The study placed female jacky dragons in two different thermal regimes – one that exposed the subject to 7 hours of thermal basking treatments each day, the other exposing the subject to 11 hours of the same treatment each day – then measured the levels of corticosterone in the subjects’ blood and examined any possible relation connected to their offspring.

Corticosterone is a steroid hormone associated with the “stress” response, energy mobilization, and suppression of the immune system. Such hormones often serve as a potential connection between offspring phenotypes and the environment of the mother, since they transfer from mother to offspring and can play a role in physiology, behavior and similar factors.

The results indicated that such “thermal opportunity” does have an effect on mothers and their offspring. Specifically, lizards exposed to the longer 11-hour regime show significantly higher corticosterone levels in their bloodstream than those exposed to the 7-hour regime.

However, it was corticosterone’s connection to maternal body condition that led to increased reproductive output – which included both the number of eggs in a subject’s given clutch and the overall size of the clutch – as well as an increased size in offspring at hatching. It did not, however, have a corresponding effect on the growth of those offspring or their gender.

More specifically, the basking treatment appeared to be interrelated with maternal corticosterone levels and body condition. That, in turn, had an interactive effect on the resulting clutch, which suggests that the combination of condition, corticosterone and overall maternal temperature could be conveying information about the mother’s external environment into her offspring.

“These findings indicate that thermal opportunity alters physiology,” Liu writes. “With potential consequences for fitness.”

References: Gracie Liu, Kristal Cain, and Lisa Schwanz, “Maternal Temperature, Corticosterone, and Body Condition as Mediators of Maternal Effects in Jacky Dragons (Amphibolurus muricatus)”, Chicago Journals, 93(6), 2020. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/711955

Provided by University of Chicago Press Journals

Women’s Hearts Age Differently (Medicine / Cardiology)

Cardiologist Catherine Gebhard’s research focuses on why certain diseases affect women and men differently. For the gender medicine pioneer, the corona pandemic is both a textbook example and a call for action at the same time.

To compensate for its smaller volume, the female heart pumps at a higher rate – which brings women no benefit, according to recent data. (Image: Christoph Fischer)

A coronavirus infection affects different people in different ways. The disparity is particularly evident between men and women. “When I saw the initial infection and death numbers, it was clear to me that we had to take action,” says cardiologist Catherine Gebhard, a specialist in gender medicine.

In Switzerland, as across the world, the number of men who die from Covid-19 is around 60 percent higher than women. In some nations, the number rises to three quarters. Men are more likely to be hospitalized, occupy more beds in the intensive care unit, and need more intensive and longer treatment. “The gender differences in the progression of the disease are significant,” says Gebhard. It is therefore important for doctors to discover the reasons for these disparities, since the best way of preventing and treating the disease depends on knowing where the differences come from.

Influence of sex hormones
To come to an understanding of the causes as quickly as possible, the cardiologist and her colleagues developed a study on the influence of sex and gender on the progression of Covid-19. The study was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of a special call for projects focused on coronavirus. “We assume that it is the impact of gender hormones on particular cell molecules and the differing immune responses between women and men that are chiefly responsible,” says Gebhard. These assumptions are based on well-founded hypotheses. For example, it is known that the female hormone estrogen affects molecules on the surface of the cells that the coronavirus needs to penetrate. The subject here is the membrane protein, ACE2, which can be found on the outer cell layers of the lung tissue and blood vessels that Sars-Cov-2 attacks.

Earlier studies have shown that the heart and kidney tissue in men is more densely covered with ACE2 than that of women. And initial evidence indicates that female and male sex hormones may have opposite effects on this protein. In her research, Gebhard examines the influence of estrogen on these receptor densities.

In the case of another membrane molecule, named Tmprss2, the male sexual hormone, testosterone, appears to play a role in influencing the receptors. This is indicated by preliminary successes from anti-testosterone treatments for Covid-19 conducted in Italy. Together, the two proteins form part of a larger and extremely complicated network of hormones and enzymes that regulate the volume of blood and water in the body. Investigations are twofold; some are carried out in labs using animal studies, others in clinics on patients. The University Hospital Zurich (USZ) as well as university clinics in Basel, Bern and Berlin are involved in the work. It is hoped, the researcher says, that initial results will be ready by the end of the year. The same goes for outcomes on the immune system from studies looking at gender-specific responses to inflammatory reactions.

Shrinking hearts

For Catherine Gebhard, the pandemic is a textbook example of the still little-known discipline of gender medicine. No specialist title exists here in Switzerland – in contrast to Austria, for example. Originating from Bad Säckingen am Rhein, the 42-year old doctor is a pioneer in the field, and in 2016 was appointed to the first professorship for gender medicine in Switzerland at UZH.

The turning point for her scientific career was a discovery by her former boss, head of echocardiography at the University Hospital Zurich. Here, where ultrasound equipment is used to visualize and measure the ventricles and valves of the heart, her mentor noticed that the hearts of older women beat more strongly than those of men of the same age. Gebhard then went on to prove in her own study that the female heart contracts more strongly and pumps more blood into the body’s system. “I haven’t been able to let the subject go ever since,” she says.

It has now been proven that women’s hearts age differently to those of men. “The female heart’s pumping function changes with age because women’s hearts grow smaller after the menopause, which is not the case with men,” says the cardiologist. To compensate for its smaller volume, the female heart pumps at a higher rate – which brings women no benefit, according to recent data. In fact, it raises female mortality levels – even though women contract diseases from constricted and occluded coronary arteries on average 10 years later than men. Before menopause, women are protected by estrogen, but after menopause, this protection wears away causing the volume of deposits in the blood vessels to grow, and with it the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The fact that women experience heart attacks differently to men is still far too little known. “Heart attacks are often not recognized quickly enough because symptoms differ,” says Gebhard. Instead of chest pain radiating into the left arm and lower jaw, women often have more inconspicuous complaints, such as abdominal and back pain or nausea. As a result, they go to the doctor later, which can be fatal. As far as prevention is concerned, women are less likely to be examined for a narrowing of the coronary arteries. And women are generally underrepresented in clinical cardiological studies. All this contributes to the fact that more women die of cardiovascular diseases in Europe than men.

Dominant men

Medicine, especially cardiology, is dominated by men. This goes some way to explaining the tunnel vision tendency. But gender medicine is more than simply the biological differences between the sexes. “Gender medicine looks not only at biological factors but also at cultural and social aspects,” says Gebhard. In the case of heart disease, for example, studies have shown that women suffer greater mental stress after a heart attack than men. They have more concerns and face tougher challenges with their double and multiple responsibilities at work and in the family. This has been demonstrated by studies on women with heart disease that examine the activity of the brain’s fear center, the area known as the amygdala, Gebhard explains.

These social reactions overshadow the biological factors that are supposed to protect women. “The socio-cultural gender can have an opposite effect from the biological gender,” says Gebhard. This can also be observed with Covid-19: After lockdown, more women were infected than men. The assumption is that they were more exposed to coronavirus at their workplace and in caring for family and relatives. In order to investigate these socio-cultural influences, certain doctors are already working with a “gender score” that builds these aspects into the treatment. Canada and Germany are leading the way in this respect.

Bias with consequences

Although gender medicine is enjoying greater understanding in Switzerland, research findings – especially in clinical medicine – are still too rarely applied, Gebhard regrets. And she continues to hear the accusation that gender medicine is biased towards women even though, with men affected more acutely, Covid-19 proves the exact opposite. This has led one colleague or another to comment: “At last you’re doing something for men.”

In reaction, the cardiologist can only smile. It has now been found that anorexia, for example, is not a typical women’s disease, as so often labelled. Men suffer from anorexia too, but the treatments are designed for female patients. Another example is osteoporosis – said to mainly afflict women after menopause. As a result, it is seriously underdiagnosed in men and is one of the most neglected disease patterns in Europe. Which all goes to prove that gender medicine is of benefit to men and women alike.

Provided by University Of Zurich

Men Eat More When They Are With Women (Psychology)

For a 2015 study, researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab camped out at an Italian buffet to watch people eat. They recorded how many pizza slices and bowls of salad each diner consumed, then had them complete a short survey before leaving. What they found was striking:

men who dined with at least one woman ate 92% more pizza and 86% more salad than men dining with just men. (Interestingly, even though women ate the same regardless of who they dined with, those in the company of men thought they overate). Scientists think men overeat in the company of women in an attempt to show off. This isn’t the first time scientists have seen a mixed-gender environment change people’s behavior. In 2009, a Cornell study found that groups of men and women will make riskier financial decisions than groups of one gender. The take-home message? Make sure you’re eating to satisfy your appetite, not to impress the opposite sex.