The result, Gur says, is very compelling.
They found that the women had a significantly higher volume of orbital frontal cortex than the men, although the amygdala remained about the same. What that suggests is that when anger is aroused, women are better equipped neurologically to step on the brakes than men.
In fact, only one man had a "modulator" that was at least seven times larger than his "emotional stimulator," compared to eight women, and only three women had a really small modulator (less than 3.5 times the size of the stimulator) compared to about a quarter of the men.
But oddly enough, one woman had the smallest modulator of all, less than two times the size of her amygdala, suggesting that it might not be a good idea to rile her up. But that can't be said for sure, because no effort has been made yet to determine if the subjects in the study really were as mellow, or violent, as the ratio of their modulator to their stimulator would suggest. That may come next, because Gur is intrigued by the woman with the dinky modulator.
"I would really like to get to know her," he says.
Takes All Kinds
Although this research, like several previous projects, indicates that (could we have a drum roll here?) there are fundamental differences between men and women, Gur says it doesn't mean that one gender is superior to the other.
Even aggression has its place.
"We do need men who can express aggression when it's appropriate," he says. "Otherwise there will be some bad people out there who will do us harm."
But it's equally important to be able to keep aggression under control, and the researchers believe this work may point the way to better clinical treatment for persons with serious aggressive tendencies.
It may be possible, for example, to come up with drugs that will stimulate the "modulator," making it more effective in controlling the rage boiling out of an emotional encounter.
At the very least, it might help some persons deal more effectively with gender differences because it shows that we aren't just the sum total of our cultural experiences. Some of us may really be made of "slugs and snails and puppy dog tails."
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.