A review on sex differences in processing emotional signals

Neuropsychologia. 2012 Jun;50(7):1211-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.12.022. Epub 2012 Jan 8.


Interest in sex-related differences in psychological functioning has again come to the foreground with new findings about their possible functional basis in the brain. Sex differences may be one way how evolution has capitalized on the capacity of homologous brain regions to process social information between men and women differently. This paper focuses specifically on the effects of emotional valence, sex of the observed and sex of the observer on regional brain activations. We also discuss the effects of and interactions between environment, hormones, genes and structural differences of the brain in the context of differential brain activity patterns between men and women following exposure to seen expressions of emotion and in this context we outline a number of methodological considerations for future research. Importantly, results show that although women are better at recognizing emotions and express themselves more easily, men show greater responses to threatening cues (dominant, violent or aggressive) and this may reflect different behavioral response tendencies between men and women as well as evolutionary effects. We conclude that sex differences must not be ignored in affective research and more specifically in affective neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hormones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Differentiation* / genetics


  • Hormones