Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Girls' and Boys' Brains: How Different Are They?: Part 2

The truth about girls' and boys' brains -- and why it matters.

An article from Greatschool.org By Connie Matthiessen

Over the last decade, a number of books identifying essential differences in the male and female brain have had popular appeal. One of these books, The Female Brain by University of California, San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, is a bestseller that has been published in 26 countries.

Brizendine stresses the differences between the brains of the two sexes, and exalts the female brain for, among other qualities, its, "tremendous unique aptitudes — outstanding verbal agility, the ability to connect deeply in friendship, a nearly psychic capacity to read faces and tone of voice for emotions and states of mind, and the ability to defuse conflict.”

Four years later, in her second book, Brizendine took a close-up look at the male brain, which she calls a "lean, mean problem-solving machine." As in her first book, The Male Brain focuses on brain differences to explain discrepancies in male/female behavior.

The Female Brain and other, similarly popular books marshal scientific studies to shore up generalizations about the male versus female brain – claims that girls are better at recognizing emotions, for example, or that boys are hardwired for aggression. Such generalizations are delicious fare for popular media and have been echoed in magazine articles and on websites (including an article formerly published here). As a result, these claims have filtered into the collective consciousness. It's common to hear parents and educators make generalizations about girls' and boys' brains, and the way the differences between them are reflected in behavior, learning, and development.

The only problem with these generalizations is that they aren't substantiated by the scientific evidence — or, at least, they aren't as true as the "sex difference evangelists" — as Slate calls Brizendine and others who share her approach — imply.

North Dakota, South Dakota
Brizendine and the other sex difference evangelists are fond of the words "innate" and "hardwired," and employ them over and over in their work. Girls are innately more relational, for example, or boys are hardwired to be competitive.

But neuroscientist Lise Eliot, who combed years of research on brain differences for her recent book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain, found scant evidence of innate qualities or hard-wiring in the brains of girls or boys: "What I found, after an exhaustive search, was surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains," she writes.

In adult brains, according to Eliot, there are larger differences between males and females, but even in adults these differences are small. Eliot and many other brain scientists agree that, instead of saying men are from Mars, women are from Venus, it's more accurate to say that men are from North Dakota, women are from South Dakota.


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