Searching for ponies: Battle of sexes extends to rats

Perhaps it is a gift, to help withstand the rigors of raising children, or maybe it is to create a needed balance between the sexes, more as a compensator than a harmonizer.

Either way, it appears the girls got the stronger dose of moxie.

Traditionally when it comes to stress, it’s been a toss-up between males and females, with most concluding the genders deal with things differently but rather equally.

That is, until a pack of female rats recently tipped the balance.

They might be soft and loving nurturers by nature, but not only do they keep cool heads under pressure, they come out the other side of long term stress the same way they went in, which is more than can be said for their male counterparts.

Over the course of a week, researchers from the University at Buffalo subjected female rats to repetitive stress trials. Following the stress routine, they gauged the rat’s memory functions and found they still remembered things they had been shown before.

Male rats, on the other hand, showed noticeable impairment in their ability to remember things that should have been familiar after being subjected to repeated stress trials — indicating problems in the area of the brain which controls things such as decision making, active memory and emotion.

Interestingly enough, the thing researchers determined was responsible for making female rats tough is also the very thing that grants feminine traits — estrogen.

Testosterone has always been viewed as the spinach of macho men, helping develop masculine traits, fostering aggression and risk taking while increasing muscle and strength — making them tougher.

Meanwhile, estrogen gives a female all the fairer traits, creates a climate for motherhood and is a powerful ingredient in creating the softer sex.

But in true Roosevelt fashion, nature apparently issued a big stick with that soft walk, because estrogen appears to be the thing that helps the brain hold it together when times are tough.

To test the theory, researchers gave the same tests to female rats whose estrogen receptors had been blocked and also administered the trials to male rats in which estrogen was active and they found the rats reversed roles, with the females showing impairment after stress and the males performed better.

For most mammals, females do have a little testosterone, and males do have a little estrogen, but the scales stay tipped respectively, keeping the lines clearly drawn.

Of course they are a little more aggressive, but typically male rats are also more laid back, lazier and more relaxed, than their female counterparts, who are more inclined to be the workers, stay busy and are, in general, a little intense — differences that may be a little more clear if the research is correct.

After all, it would seem the girls are naturally wired for greater intensity and responsibility, while male rats may need a little more downtime so they don’t overstress and forget important things.

Admittedly, having a higher threshold for stress could be a pretty valuable thing and the implications of such research could be far reaching, however, more studies are certainly needed in the interest of separating out all the other attributes that are bundled in with the female hormone — surely it wouldn’t do much good to make males tougher while also giving them soft curves.

In the meantime, the male rats may want to take up the rear of the pack and follow the girls — they may not toughen up by osmosis, but at least they will find their way back to the nest.


Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: or on the web at:

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