Neural responses to gender-based microaggressions in academic medicine

J Neurosci Res. 2023 Dec;101(12):1803-1813. doi: 10.1002/jnr.25240. Epub 2023 Sep 1.


Gender-based microaggressions have been associated with persistent disparities between women and men in academia. Little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying those often subtle and unintentional yet detrimental behaviors. Here, we assessed the neural responses to gender-based microaggressions in 28 early career faculty in medicine (N = 16 female, N = 12 male sex) using fMRI. Participants watched 33 videos of situations demonstrating gender-based microaggressions and control situations in academic medicine. Video topics had been previously identified through real-life anecdotes about microaggression from women faculty and were scripted and reenacted using professional actors. Primary voxel-wise analyses comparing group differences in activation elucidated a significant group by condition interaction in a right-lateralized cluster across the frontal (inferior and middle frontal gyri, frontal pole, precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus) and parietal lobes (supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus). Whereas women faculty exhibited reduced activation in these regions during the microaggression relative to the control condition, the opposite was true for men. Posthoc analyses showed that these patterns were significantly associated with the degree to which participants reported feeling judged for their gender in academic medicine. Lastly, secondary exploratory ROI analyses showed significant between-group differences in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus. Women activated these two regions less in the microaggression condition compared to the control condition, whereas men did not. These findings indicate that the observation of gender-based microaggressions results in a specific pattern of neural reactivity in women early career faculty.

Keywords: academic medicine; fMRI; gender-based microaggressions; sex differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microaggression*
  • Prefrontal Cortex