Research Topic

Sex Differences in Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Language

About this Research Topic

There is a contemporary push for models of perception and cognition that account for individual differences. Recently, the US National Institutes of Health has required that sex as a biological variable be considered in research projects. But in reality, the number of male and female participants is not always reported, the sexes are not always equally represented, and sex is rarely a factor in data analyses. Yet, in the neuroscience literature, there is growing awareness that the influence of sex can modify findings and therefore conclusions. The size and importance of sex differences must become a standard consideration in research.

Evidence exists for sex as a significant factor in neural mechanisms of speech and language behaviors. Sex influences many cognitive functions that interact with speech and language abilities, including emotion, memory, hearing, and face processing. There are sex differences in the prevalence of disorders with symptomatology in the domain of language such as autism, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Sex differences in maturation rate may account for the earlier acquisition of language in female than in male children. In older adults, declines in word and sentence recognition may be stronger for males. We have found significant differences in factors that account for speech recognition in noise between normal-hearing female and male adults. Sex differences have also been reported in relation to emotional speech perception. However, meta-analyses addressing sex differences in hemispheric dominance and language behavior have been inconclusive, suggesting a complex interaction between sex and language abilities.

Importantly, failure to obtain significant behavioral differences between sexes does not guarantee that underlying neural mechanisms are not different. A provocative possibility is that sex differences in the brain are compensatory, leading to no behavioral differences across the sexes despite brain dimorphisms. There may also be important sex differences in the variance of a behavioral or neural mechanism. Thus, behavioral results are not sufficient grounds to reject possible neural differences. Furthermore, failure to investigate sex differences may result in inconsistencies in findings across studies and outright errors. When there are sex differences, failure to incorporate them explicitly in analyses, as opposed to relegating them to statistical error terms, may lead to failure to obtain significant results.

This Research Topic calls for papers that examine sex differences in neural mechanisms underlying speech and language including sensory processing. We recognize that this topic may be challenging in light of practices that tend to ignore sex differences. Therefore, we welcome papers that re-examine previous results in addition to new studies. However, we discourage submissions that merely report on the existence/non-existence of sex differences without insights into neural mechanisms of speech and language. We prefer original research papers to meta-analyses, because the sex factor has been sparsely studied in the past. Nevertheless, we will consider all types of manuscripts, including original research studies, meta-analyses, theoretical papers, re-examination of previous results, and review articles. We welcome studies of disorders that shed light on speech and language mechanisms that are modulated by gender/sex.


Dr. Bernstein is a principal member of SeeHear LLC. This company presently receives NIH funding for research on speech testing in the audiology clinic and on training lipreading.


Keywords: speech perception, gender/sex differences, language processing, neural mechanisms, individual differences, language disorders, mental/emotional disorders, development, aging


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

There is a contemporary push for models of perception and cognition that account for individual differences. Recently, the US National Institutes of Health has required that sex as a biological variable be considered in research projects. But in reality, the number of male and female participants is not always reported, the sexes are not always equally represented, and sex is rarely a factor in data analyses. Yet, in the neuroscience literature, there is growing awareness that the influence of sex can modify findings and therefore conclusions. The size and importance of sex differences must become a standard consideration in research.

Evidence exists for sex as a significant factor in neural mechanisms of speech and language behaviors. Sex influences many cognitive functions that interact with speech and language abilities, including emotion, memory, hearing, and face processing. There are sex differences in the prevalence of disorders with symptomatology in the domain of language such as autism, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Sex differences in maturation rate may account for the earlier acquisition of language in female than in male children. In older adults, declines in word and sentence recognition may be stronger for males. We have found significant differences in factors that account for speech recognition in noise between normal-hearing female and male adults. Sex differences have also been reported in relation to emotional speech perception. However, meta-analyses addressing sex differences in hemispheric dominance and language behavior have been inconclusive, suggesting a complex interaction between sex and language abilities.

Importantly, failure to obtain significant behavioral differences between sexes does not guarantee that underlying neural mechanisms are not different. A provocative possibility is that sex differences in the brain are compensatory, leading to no behavioral differences across the sexes despite brain dimorphisms. There may also be important sex differences in the variance of a behavioral or neural mechanism. Thus, behavioral results are not sufficient grounds to reject possible neural differences. Furthermore, failure to investigate sex differences may result in inconsistencies in findings across studies and outright errors. When there are sex differences, failure to incorporate them explicitly in analyses, as opposed to relegating them to statistical error terms, may lead to failure to obtain significant results.

This Research Topic calls for papers that examine sex differences in neural mechanisms underlying speech and language including sensory processing. We recognize that this topic may be challenging in light of practices that tend to ignore sex differences. Therefore, we welcome papers that re-examine previous results in addition to new studies. However, we discourage submissions that merely report on the existence/non-existence of sex differences without insights into neural mechanisms of speech and language. We prefer original research papers to meta-analyses, because the sex factor has been sparsely studied in the past. Nevertheless, we will consider all types of manuscripts, including original research studies, meta-analyses, theoretical papers, re-examination of previous results, and review articles. We welcome studies of disorders that shed light on speech and language mechanisms that are modulated by gender/sex.


Dr. Bernstein is a principal member of SeeHear LLC. This company presently receives NIH funding for research on speech testing in the audiology clinic and on training lipreading.


Keywords: speech perception, gender/sex differences, language processing, neural mechanisms, individual differences, language disorders, mental/emotional disorders, development, aging


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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31 March 2019 Manuscript

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Submission Deadlines

31 March 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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