Saturday, January 22, 2011

Studying Lesbians: Studies show we are really all the same

Studying Lesbians is a monthly column about recent (and not so recent) research involving lesbians or the LGBT community as a whole. This time I want to discuss two very different lines of research that both show a similar thing: We are all the same.

The last few months there's been a lot of media attention about gay bullying, gay teens committing suicide, the It gets better project and lots of other initiatives focusing on how tough it is to be a queer teen and what can be done to improve things. Although no one is denying it's hard to be an LGBT teen, recent studies have shown that being a teen is hard for almost everyone!

Apparently, it's not just queer teens that are being bullied, but up to 77% of teenagers in high school report getting bullied. Teens get bullied for being a geek, or fat, or Asian, or small, or tall or anything else you can imagine. In other words, being a teenager sucks!

Other studies show that it might be hard to be a gay teen, but on average gay teens are just as (un)happy, with the same number of friends and just as many/few problems as their heterosexual peers.

These studies were all conducted in the United States, but one can assume it's sort of the same over in Europe. I like to think on average our bullying percentage is lower, but I could be biased. The point of all these studies is that they are basically saying that the teen years are (equally) hard on all teens.

A totally different line of research was pursued in a study that was published this month that looked into the kind of regions in the brain that are involved with being in love. They came to the very surprising (!) conclusion that the same regions of the brain are involved, regardless of someone's sexual orientation. Can I get a collective DUH?

What they did in this study, conducted at the University College of London and recently published on PLoS One, was do MRI scans of people using special markers, while they were looking at pictures of either their romantic partner or of pictures of their close friends. The regions of the brain that were active while looking at these photos would light up, showing exactly what part of the brain was used.

They found that different parts of the brain were activated when looking at a romantic partner than when looking at a close friend, and this had nothing to do with either the sexual orientation of the perceiver, or with the gender of the person in the photo.

These kind of studies are interesting, mainly because of figuring out how the brain works and how activation in different parts of the brain are connected to our every day feelings and actions. However, as far as showing that we're all the same I can't say it's very earth shattering. After all, had the researchers really expected that gays use different parts of their brains when they are in love?

On the other hand, I guess any research showing the world that we are just the same as heterosexuals, even if it's to say that our feelings of love are caused by the same chemical reactions in our brains, is a good thing.


What do you think of these studies? Do you think they contribute in any way? Do you think it's a good thing studies show we are just the same or is it better to emphasize how we differ? Let us know in the comments.

This post was first published on eurOut.


oanaa said...

There are differences in a hetero brain and a gay brain, in microstructures and this is medically certified. Doctyors didn't say that gay people use other parts of their brains.. Also sexual orientation is determined not only anatomically ( brain structure) but also environmental(their experiences, lives, people surrounding them, etc.). So if you'll search more, you will find the medical researches that certifies the differences in the brain structure.

Natazzz said...

I'm aware of studies showing there are indeed brain differences between gays and heterosexuals. However, in my column I was referring to a certain recent study that looked at whether feelings like being in love would work differently in straight and gay brains, which of course wasn't the case.

unfolder said...

It's indeed pretty obvious that our brains would work the same when we fall in love. But, I think that if someone felt the need to conduct this study, that there's probably also a need for this to be pointed out.

Natazzz said...

@unfolder True, a lot of research time is always spend pointing out the obvious ;)