Infant mental health journal, 2017 01
Why are boys at risk? To address this question, I use the perspective of regulation theory to offer a model of the deeper psychoneurobiological mechanisms that underlie the vulnerability of the developing male. The central thesis of this work dictates that significant gender differences are seen between male and female social and emotional functions in the earliest stages of development, and that these result from not only differences in sex hormones and social experiences but also in rates of male and female brain maturation, specifically in the early developing right brain. I present interdisciplinary research which indicates that the stress-regulating circuits of the male brain mature more slowly than those of the female in the prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal critical periods, and that this differential structural maturation is reflected in normal gender differences in right-brain attachment functions. Due to this maturational delay, developing males also are more vulnerable over a longer period of time to stressors in the social environment (attachment trauma) and toxins in the physical environment (endocrine disruptors) that negatively impact right-brain development. In terms of differences in gender-related psychopathology, I describe the early developmental neuroendocrinological and neurobiological mechanisms that are involved in the increased vulnerability of males to autism, early onset schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorders as well as the epigenetic mechanisms that can account for the recent widespread increase of these disorders in U.S. culture. I also offer a clinical formulation of early assessments of boys at risk, discuss the impact of early childcare on male psychopathogenesis, and end with a neurobiological model of optimal adult male socioemotional functions.