Curiosities: Why does it seem women like chocolate so much more than men do?

April 25, 2007

Chocolate doesn’t just tingle the tongue; it’s a soup of many compounds that affect the brain, including caffeine and theobromines. And it’s true: chocolate does affect women differently than men, says Anthony Auger, an assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison.

Auger, who studies sex differences in the brain, agrees that women have a stronger craving for chocolate. This distinction can be found as far down the evolutionary ladder as rats, where females also have a stronger craving for the blessed bean. The difference is probably rooted in the female’s cyclic rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone, Auger says.

In June, a new study showed that chocolate also affects brains differently after it’s eaten. Magnetic resonance (MR) images of brains showed that the hypothalamus was less active in women after they consumed large amounts of chocolate. Since the hypothalamus helps regulate food intake, this could explain why chocolate is more likely to reduce a woman’s hunger, or at least her motivation to eat more chocolate.

The study also found decreased activity in the amygdala, a key emotional center in the brain. “I’m intrigued,” says Auger, “because the amygdala not only regulates positive and negative emotions, but also sexual behavior and desire. So chocolate has a potential impact on those behaviors, although there are no direct data to prove that. But biologically, these differences could be underlying mechanisms to explain why men and women have different preferences, as well as behavioral and physiological responses to chocolate.”