Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are about ten times more common in women than men. Now researchers have found men are more rational in their processing of words which could trigger concerns about body image, while women take a more emotional approach.

Their study found different parts of the brain were activated in men and women when they were shown words such as “obesity”, “corpulence” and “heavy”.

The researchers, writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said their findings could have implications for treating eating disorders, which have been linked to concerns about body shape.

The team, from Hiroshima University in Japan, used brain scans to record the reactions of 13 men and 13 women. The participants, with an average age of 25, were shown 30 neutral words, such as “moment” and “question”, and 30 words concerning body image, such as “obesity”. They were then asked to select the most unpleasant words based on their own experience.

When the men were confronted with the second group of words, the scans showed significantly more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is associated with experiencing emotions but also with cognitive aspects of emotional processing.

In contrast, the women’s brains showed greater activity in the left parahippocampal gyrus, including the amygdala. an area of the brain associated with stimuli signalling threat.

“Our results suggest the possibility that men processed the words concerning body image more cognitively than emotionally,” said the researchers. “On the other hand, women processed this task more emotionally than cognitively.”

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