A new study finds that certain brain activity of individuals who believe they are the opposite sex mirrors that of the gender they would like to embrace. But experts say the study doesn't show whether the brain differences are innate or due to the choices and life experiences of those with gender dysphoria.
Additionally, the study conflicts with other supposedly pro-transgender studies that purport to show there is no such thing as male and female brain differences.
In the future, those questioning their gender might be offered brain scans to determine whether they are experiencing gender dysphoria, if the findings hold.
The Telegraph reported May 22 that analysis of approximately 160 participants showed that biological males with gender dysphoria, "had a brain structure and neurological patterns similar to biological females, and vice versa" and that those neurological differences are detectable during childhood.
The findings of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain.
Scientists behind the new research say their discovery promises doctors a new tool with which to offer better advice at an earlier stage. At present the debate remains hotly contested as to how children suffering from gender confusion should be treated psychologically and medically, particularly the prescribing of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
The team of researchers employed MRI tests to examine brain activation upon being exposed to a steroid, in addition to measuring gray matter and white matter microstructure using a technique called "diffusion tensor imaging," the Telegraph reported. The study featured biological males and females with gender dysphoria, and male and females without gender dysphoria as controls, with ages ranging across childhood and adolescence.
Medical doctors who spoke with The Christian Post found some of the Telegraph's seeming conclusions premature.
"Despite the claims of this recent study, a single MRI scan cannot be used to diagnose 'transgenderism,'" said Dr. Michelle Cretella, president of American College of Pediatricians, in a recent interview with CP.
"The fundamental problem is that a brain 'difference' detected at a single point in time cannot establish causation because thinking and behavior are known to alter brain anatomy, activity and function. This process is known as neuroplasticity."
Professor Julie Bakker, who led the research at the University of Liège in Belgium, said: "Although more research is needed, we now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with [gender dysphoria], as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender."
"We will then be better equipped to support these young people, instead of just sending them to a psychiatrist and hoping that their distress will disappear spontaneously."
The study comes amid intensifying debate over the Gender Recognition Act in the United Kingdom, which Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to amend in order to allow people to change gender legally without medical authorization.
May said last year that "being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as such."
Cretella stressed that "all trans brain studies to date, this one included, fail to disprove what is most probable: believing one is trans and behaving trans changes the individual's brain appearance and function."
"To prove that there is a 'trans brain' scientists would need to take MRIs of a set of thousands of randomly selected, nationally representative infants at birth and then serially into young adulthood in order to identify an unchanging brain difference across the subjects' lifespan that is present ONLY in trans identifying young adults."
Likewise, Dr. Martin Bednar, a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist shared his analysis with CP.
"From my review of the abstract and various news releases, it is clear that this is an MRI cross-sectional study, i.e. one point in time rather than a longitudinal study (multiple MRIs over a period of time in the same individual) to determine if there are changes over time, e.g., from birth to the point where gender dysphoria was clearly expressed by an individual," Bednar wrote.