Monday, September 26, 2011

Girls' and Boys' Brains: How Different Are They?: Part 1

The truth about girls' and boys' brains -- and why it matters.
An article from By Connie Matthiessen

When my son was a toddler, his best friend, a girl, gave him a sparkling dancing Katrina doll for a birthday present. He'd apparently admired the doll at her house, but once he got it he never played with it – until the day I found him chasing his little brother around with the doll, which he'd managed to twist into the shape of a gun.

Boys will be boys? Proof that gender differences are hardwired? Not so fast. Like most parents, I have just as many tales illustrating the influence of nurture on my son's behavior. At preschool one day, as he was playing dress up with two girlfriends, he donned a scarlet tutu. Within a minute an older, cooler boy guffawed, "Boys don't wear dresses!" He never put on girl clothes again.

In recent years, the age-old question of nature versus nurture has sprung up in neurobiology. Are boys' brains essentially different from girls' brains? If so, how?

This question has been at the center of a debate that has ping-ponged back and forth over the last couple of decades, and many of the "facts" that have filtered up into popular discourse are both unsubstantiated and untrue. It’s no wonder that many parents are confused about boys and girls and that most essential of organs: the human brain.

How did we get so muddled? The story is an intriguing one involving brain science, bestsellers, and a fair share of baloney.

Back in 1992, when John Gray published Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, he tapped into the public's tremendous appetite for information about sex differences. Mars vs. Venus is about the gulf between men and women — a chasm so immense, Gray insists, that males and females may as well be from different planets. The book was a dizzying success — Gray's website calls it "the most popular book of the decade" — and it continues to do well almost 20 years later, generating lucrative spinoffs including couples' seminars, product endorsements, and revamped versions of the original book (the most recent volume is titled Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice.)


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