The female mind has always been tough to decode. Today, we’re taking a look at 10 psychological facts about women that you may not have known.
1. WOMEN ARE REALLY INTUITIVE
Men can have the uncomfortable feeling that women are mind readers or psychics. But women’s intuition is likely more biological than mystical.
Over the course of evolution, women may have been selected for their ability to keep young preverbal humans alive, which involves deducing what an infant or child needs, which is, warmth, food, discipline, etc without it being directly communicated. This is one explanation for why women consistently score higher than men on tests that require reading nonverbal cues. Women are not only better at remembering the physical appearances of others but also more correctly identify the unspoken messages conveyed in facial expressions, postures, and tones of voice, studies show. This skill, however, is not limited to childrearing. Women often use it to tell what bosses, husbands, and even strangers are thinking and planning.
2. WOMEN AVOID AGGRESSION
Stressful situations are known to spur the “fight or flight” response in men, but researchers have suggested that women, after sensing a threat, instinctually try to “tend or befriend.” That is, they skirt physical responses in favor of forming strategic or even manipulative alliances.
Women may have evolved to avoid physical aggression because of the greater dependence of children on their survival, suggests Anne Campbell of Durham University.
In ancient hunter-gatherer days, men only needed to do the deed to spread their genes, while women had to stay alive long enough to birth and raise the young.
“It is not that females are not aggressive, it is that they are aggressive in different ways,” said evolutionary psychologist Daniel Kruger of the University of Michigan. They tend to use more indirect forms of confrontation.
3. WOMEN RESPOND TO PAIN AND ANXIETY DIFFERENTLY
Brain-imaging studies over the last 10 years have shown that male and female brains respond differently to pain and fear. And, women’s brains may be the more sensitive of the two.
The female brain is not only more responsive to small amounts of stress but is less able to habituate to high levels of stress, said Debra Bangasser of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, describing her recent research looking at molecular changes in the brain. Bangasser’s research was conducted in rats but is considered potentially applicable to humans.
Stress sensitivity may have some benefits; it shifts one’s mental state from being narrowly focused to being more flexibly and openly aware. But if the anxiety is prolonged, it can be damaging. Such findings may help explain why women are more prone to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders.
4. THEIR MOOD CHANGES BASED ON THEIR CYCLE
Affecting up to 80 percent of women, PMS is a familiar scapegoat. But women are affected by their cycles every day of the month. Hormone levels are constantly changing in a woman’s brain and body, changing her outlook, energy, and sensitivity along with them.
About 10 days after the onset of menstruation, right before ovulation, women often feel sassier. Unconsciously, they dress sexier as surges in estrogen and testosterone prompt them to look for sexual opportunities during this particularly fertile period.
A week later, there is a rise in progesterone, the hormone that mimics valium, making women “feel like cuddling up with a hot cup of tea and a good book”. The following week, progesterone withdrawal can make women weepy and easily irritated.
For most women, their mood reaches its worst 12-24 hours before their period starts.
5. THEY AVOID CONFLICT TOO!
Women may also have evolved extra-sensitivity to interpersonal cues as a way to avoid conflict, a state that can feel intolerable to women. The flood of chemicals that takes over the female brain during a conflict, especially within an intimate relationship, is almost in the same order as a seizure.
Possibly because of their overachievement in “mind-reading,” women often find blank expressions, or a lack of response, completely unbearable. A young girl will go to great lengths trying to get a response from a mime while a boy will not be nearly so determined.
For females, in particular, a negative response may be better than no response at all. But that usually depends on the person.
6. WOMEN ARE EASILY TURNED OFF
A women’s sex drive is much more easily upset than a guy’s. For a woman to get in the mood, and especially to have an orgasm, certain areas of her brain have to shut off. And any number of things can turn them back on.
A woman may refuse a man’s advances because she is angry, feeling distrustful, or even because her feet are chilly, studies show. Pregnancy, caring for small children and menopause can also take a toll on a woman’s sex drive.
7. WOMEN ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DURING PREGNANCY
Progesterone increases 30-fold in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, causing most women to become very sedated. It is sort of like a very strong sleeping pill.
A woman’s brain also shrinks during pregnancy, becoming about 4-percent smaller by the time she delivers, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology.
Don’t worry, it returns to normal size by six months after delivery.
Whether pregnancy causes women to think differently is controversial, one recent study linked memory problems to pregnancy hormones but some researchers have suggested the changes prepare brain circuits that guide maternal behavior.
These circuits likely continue to develop after birth. Handling a baby releases maternal hormones, even among females who have never been pregnant, found researchers. While measured in rats, the finding offers a chemical understanding of the bonding that can occur among foster moms and children.
8. THE PATERNAL INSTINCT
The physical, hormonal, emotional, and social changes facing a woman directly after giving birth can be monumental.
Over the course of evolution, it was rare for our maternal ancestors to be full-time mothers because there was always kin-folk around to help with child rearing and parenting. And a mother needs a lot of support, not only for her own sake but for the child’s as well. Her ability to adequately respond to her infant can impact the child’s developing nervous system and temperament, research shows.
One thing that helps is breastfeeding. Nursing may help women deal with some types of stress, studies suggest. One study even found that breastfeeding might be more rewarding to the female brain than cocaine. The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2005.
9. WOMEN GO THROUGH ADOLESCENCE TWICE
No one wants to go through adolescence again. Its physical changes and hormonal fluctuations not only create mood swings and physical discomfort but nagging questions about self-identity as well.
Women, however, get to do just that. They go through a “second adolescence” called perimenopause in their 40s. It starts around age 43 and reaches its pinnacle by 47 or 48 years old. Men’s hormones also change as they age, but not nearly as abruptly.
In addition to erratic periods and night sweats, a woman’s hormones during this transition are so crazed she can be as moody as a teenager.
The duration of perimenopause varies from two to nine years, with most women leave it behind by the age of 52.
10. WOMEN LOVE RISK DURING THEIR MATURE YEARS
Once women have finished going through menopause, their body moves into its “advanced” stage, the female brain gets a second wind. While men start to show increased interest in relationships as they age, the mature woman becomes ready to take risks.
She may continue to feel motivated to help others, but her focus might shift from her immediate family to local and global communities. She may also feel a strong desire to do more for herself, and her career, after decades of care-taking.
Whether she sows her newly wild oats with whirlwind travel, going back to school, or by playing the field depends on the individual, of course. But for many 50-plus women, the twilight years are characterized by an increased “zest” for life and a hearty appetite for adventure.
It’s crazy to think that women go through so much and come out looking great.
Let us know which one surprised you the most, down in the comments below.