The Gay Brain? Neuroscientists find evidence that homosexuality is hard-wired

June 17, 2008 at 10:48 pm 17 comments

the gay brain?

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published an interesting article in today’s journal that examines the physical structure of brains in heterosexual and homosexual study participants.

The best summary of the article, PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects, authored by lead researchers Ivanka Savic and Per Linstrom of the Stockholm Brain Institute in Sweden, is provided by Richard Monastersky on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s News Blog:

Is There a Gay Brain? Imagine Study Finds Anatomical Clues

[Neuroscience researchers] found that the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual women were more symmetrical than the brains of heterosexual men and homosexual women. A similar difference emerged when the researchers looked in particular at the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotional reactions. Heterosexual women and homosexual men had more connections between their right and left amygdala and more connections with other brain regions than did homosexual women and heterosexual men.

Scientists have spent decades looking for brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual people and since the early 1990s have been finding anatomical distinctions in regions associated with sexual behavior. The new study suggests broader brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual men and women, even in regions not linked to sexual attraction.

The BBC article where I first read of this study can be found here.

In 2005, Dr. Savic was the lead researcher on another neuroscientific investigation about the “gay brain.” The title of that article, also published by PNAS, is Brain response to putative phermones in homosexual men.

In this 2005 study, it was discovered — as the title of the article says — that “the brains of homosexual men respond more like those of women when reacting to a chemical derived from the male sex hormone.” [Source]



These two studies lend evidence to the debate over whether sexual orientation is a biologically-determined trait.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cerebral Asymmetry: is it all in the Mind? « In the Dark  |  November 12, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    […] and sexuality differences in brain structure received widespread press coverage and the odd blog comment. They had analysed a group of 90 volunteers divided into four classes based on gender and sexual […]

  • 2. Way to go Sweden! - Page 5  |  January 23, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    […] during childhood. | News | Pedophiles `programmed,’ study finds just like homosexuals The Gay Brain? Neuroscientists find evidence that homosexuality is hard-wired playthink […]

  • 3. Way to go Sweden! - Page 5  |  January 23, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    […] during childhood. | News | Pedophiles `programmed,’ study finds just like homosexuals The Gay Brain? Neuroscientists find evidence that homosexuality is hard-wired playthink or this similarity. Pedophilia is linked to reduced activation in hypo…[Biol Psychiatry. 2007] – […]

  • 4. Earls  |  April 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

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  • 5. Church and Homosexuality - Page 4 - Volconvo Debate Forums  |  September 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    […] sexuality." AMA to Advocate for End to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' – Psychiatric News, Dec. 2009 The Gay Brain? Neuroscientists find evidence that homosexuality is hard-wired – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008 So, Your Lordship… are you claiming all […]

  • 6. Allen  |  October 22, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Studies should begin at birth and follow groups as they grow to determine whether there is brain difference from the beginning of life or if the brain takes on differences when homosexuality begins. Otherwise, how can it be determined with absolute assurance that the brain is hard-wired or not?

    • 7. Morgan  |  April 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      A lifetime study is what would be required in order to gain as much information as possible. Anything else simply isn’t a complete picture. We must also include the parents and grandparents nutritional, mental and physcial health as well (the dna chain). For instance, what type of diet (organic or commercial food source..genetically modified/antibiotic/hormone treated/pesticides, etc, vegetarian/vegan, omnivoire, processed and fast foods (asparatame/msg/sugar, etc). Nutritional and herbal supplements. Mental health anxiety/depression/traumas, etc…pharm and other drugs as these change the original brain chemistry. Environmental toxin exposure…heavy metals, etc. Physical health….hormone levels, disease, other pharm and otc drugs, etc. Lifestyle influences…parent type (straight or gay), married/divorced, liberal/conservative/moderate, religious/non-religious. PET scans taken from birth on paying close attention to behavior after age 22 (when the frontal lobe is fully developed – reasoning). Risk…radiation exposure. We would of course have to exclude bi-sexual as this would taint the study. Seems like a huge task to justify a person’s sexual orientation. If you are happy, healthy, mentally stable, kind, respectful and contribute positively to society does it really matter? Do we really want to open pandora’s box fully?

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  • 15.  |  October 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    The Gay Brain? Neuroscientists find evidence that homosexuality is hard-wired | playthink

  • 16. gay brain? | restoringlove  |  March 12, 2015 at 6:41 am

    […] from here […]

  • 17. Jed Stamas  |  May 13, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    According to the APA, the mechanism by which individuals develop a sexual orientation is unknown. “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons why.” “No findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.” First off, this shows how little we (humanity) know about ourselves. Yet another question science can’t answer. However, just because “science doesn’t know” doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking.

    Some psychologists and “pop philosophers” have made hypotheses. On one hand, there’s the nature camp. These people say that sexual orientation is genetic. Some even claim that genes have been discovered for or predisposing one toward a particular sexual orientation. Studies have been done showing “the gay gene,” but these studies might only be showing a correlation between a particular personality type and sexual orientation. For example, say that a particular gene is correlated with risk taking. It would make sense that in a culture in which being gay is seen as taking a risk, people with that gene might be more likely to be gay. A similar argument applies to a possible gene for creativity. Although correlations between particular genes and sexual orientation have been found, correlation does not show causation.

    On the other side are the nurture people. What is nurture? Cultural, environmental, and family-based factors. In my opinion, sexual orientation is 100% cultural, see below. Environmental hypotheses involve the idea that due to increasing population, more people are choosing non-hetero sexual orientations, as a way to prevent runaway overpopulation. This hypothesis is utter pseudoscientific garbage. Most people aren’t aware of overpopulation as a major political issue in the first place. And no one says “I’m gay because of overpopulation,” so it would have to be a subconscious choice beyond one’s conscious control. Who or what would be influencing someone’s sexual behavior, and by what mechanism? One could speculate about Gaia or God, but now we’re definitely getting into pseudoscience! Overpopulation is not making people gay.

    Science is based on evidence. What does the anthropological evidence say? If we look at a wide variety of cultures, throughout place and time, the evidence overwhelmingly shows an extreme amount of statistical variation. All cultures have some rules (taboos, norms) surrounding sexual orientation, but in some cultures, such as the ancient Greeks, everyone is bisexual. In others, there are strict taboos against certain sexual orientations or behaviors.

    In Papua New Guinea and Oceania, a wide variety of indigenous tribes still exist. In most of these cultures, bisexual behavior is normal. In some cultures, the entire religion is based around male homosexuality, and every male engages in bisexuality. In some cultures, arranged marriages are first made between two boys and later made between boys and girls. After marriage to the girl, the man can still have sex with his husband, but only in private. Because most of the anthropologists were male, little is known about homosexual behavior among females. It could be extremely common as well.

    Similar cultural norms can be found among certain Native American and African tribes. These cultures may be held up as anomalies today, but most anthropologists agree that they still live as most people lived for tens of thousands of years prior to the modern era. Therefore, the very existence of these cultures shows that for most of humanity’s existence, in a significant percentage of cultures, sexual orientations other than heterosexual existed. Therefore, a significant percentage of our ancestors were bisexual. We inherited their genes.

    In my opinion, humans are inherently bisexual. However, culture can be a force that suppresses certain sexual orientations or behaviors. There are strict Islamic, orthodox Jewish, and fundamentalist Christian cultures in which homosexuality is suppressed. It is deemed against social norms and therefore discouraged, ridiculed, or punished. In such cultures, only the extremely brave risk takers engage in bisexual or homosexual behavior; most avoid it out of social stigma and fear.

    However, culture can also be a force that encourages bisexuality. Therefore, culture is the prime determinant of sexual orientation, not genes or the environment. Whether or not someone actuality engages in sexual behavior deemed taboo may be related to genetic, or “personality” factors. However, as I see it, the entire concept of sexual orientation is the product of hetero-normative culture. Cultural factors determine if our inherent bisexual nature is expressed or suppressed.

    This hypothesis explains why there is less heterosexuality in the modern world than every before. It’s not that we are evolving rapidly over a few generations, and now, all of a sudden, genes for homosexuality are expressing themselves. Rather, it is due to changes in culture. What kind of changes? The LGBT movement grew alongside other cultural changes, primarily the hippies, multiculturalism and feminism. Multiculturalism supposes that all cultural perspectives are valid. Therefore, the older, traditionalist culture is not objectively right about cultural norms. Multiculturalism views all cultural norms as equally valid. This creates moral paradoxes, as things considered normal in one culture are not in another. Multiculturalism helped to generate the question, “what is normal sexuality, anyway?” The hippies questioned social norms in general and flaunted them by growing long hair and wearing clothes from different cultures. They encouraged creativity: a personality trait associated with “alternative” sexual orientations. First and second wave feminism sought to change cultural norms involving women and gender roles in general. In the midst of all these other cultural changes, it is no surprise that people started to rediscover their inherent bisexual natures. Some people saw other cultural norms changing, or being broken, and decided to join along in a sexual way.

    What are the implications of the cultural hypothesis? First off, it seems to work against the interests of some gay rights activists and organizations. They would like science to show that sexual orientation is not a choice. The cultural hypothesis implies that it is somewhat of a choice for someone to accept or resist traditionalist cultural norms. However, the hypothesis ultimately works in favor of peoples’ civil rights. Here’s how: our fundamental right is the right to our own bodies, and by extension, our sexualities. If most of us are bisexual by nature, it is a basic natural right to engage in consensual, non-manipulative sexual behavior, irregardless of the genders involved. Culture has no say in the matter. By extension, it is a violation of our rights for someone else to violate our body or our sexuality. It does not matter what is doing the violation: whether it be culture, the family, tradition, or religion. Instead of granting that one subjective cultural notion (“its wrong to be gay”) has anything to do with morality, we should question all subjective moral notions: and recognize objective ones.

    The fundamental moral truth is our intersubjectivity. We all possess bodies, minds, and sexualities, and they are worthy of respect.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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