Sex differences in the functional lateralization of emotion and decision making in the human brain

J Neurosci Res. 2017 Jan 2;95(1-2):270-278. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23829.


Dating back to the case of Phineas Gage, decades of neuropsychological research have shown that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is crucial to both real-world social functioning and abstract decision making in the laboratory (see, e.g., Stuss et al., ; Bechara et al., 1994; Damasio et al., ). Previous research has shown that the relationship between the laterality of individuals' vmPFC lesions and neuropsychological performance is moderated by their sex, whereby there are more severe social, emotional, and decision-making impairments in men with right-side vmPFC lesions and in women with left-side vmPFC lesions (Tranel et al., 2005; Sutterer et al., 2015). We conducted a selective review of studies examining the effect of vmPFC lesions on emotion and decision making and found further evidence of sex-related differences in the lateralization of function not only in the vmPFC but also in other neurological structures associated with decision making and emotion. This Mini-Review suggests that both sex and laterality effects warrant more careful consideration in the scientific literature. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: amygdala; cognitive function; emotion; functional lateralization; sex differences; vmPFC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Sex Characteristics*