Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: The scientific differences between the sexes are not as big as we think...

Pink brain, blue brain : how small differences grow into troublesome gaps--and what we can do about it Pink Brain, Blue Brain : How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps--and What We Can Do About It
by Lise Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the mother of three sons, I've always been interested in learning more about what is hardwired into males and females, and what is influenced by environment. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library.

Eliot is a neuroscientist, a graduate from Harvard and Columbia, an associate professor of neuroscience, and mother of two sons and a daughter. The basic premise of the book is that although yes, males and females have biologically based differences, many of our differences are due to environment and childrearing (or in other words, nurture).

She painstakingly analyzes the studies about male-female differences and helps the reader decipher what's been proven and what's been simply extrapolated (and exaggerated).

Here's what's been proven:

*Boys are as much as four times more likely to experience learning and developmental disorders, including autism, ADD, and dyslexia. They are 73% more likely to die in accidents and more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes.

*Girls are at least twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. They are twice as likely as boys to attempt suicide (but boys are three times more likely to succeed at it).

*Girls get better grades, but boys get higher SAT scores.

*Males have bigger brains, but they are also less likely to survive at birth and through the first year of life. They are also more likely to be miscarried. (Any parent of a preemie knows that girls are much more likely to survive and do well in the NICU...white male babies have the worst survival rates.)

*Girls develop more quickly in the womb and in the first few years of life. Yes, there's proof that females mature more quickly than boys.

Along with these, Eliot refutes a lot of gender-related myths out there as well. Many scientific studies showing differences between males and females were later refuted, but those findings were not published in the popular press.

Contrary to the 1970s, "Free to Be You and Me" era, now with the proliferation of boy and girl experts and John Gray types, parents seem to jump all over supposed gender differences, using them to excuse behavior and indulge in stereotypes. (Don't get me started on the pink/princess craze...or conversely, the fact that nearly all boy clothing features sports or action figures!)

Eliot tackles several phases in a person's life (including gestation) and describes the scientific data and environmental influences on shaping a person's personality. She gives excellent recommendations for fighting against stereotypes and helping children achieve their full potential, no matter their gender.
I strongly recommend this book for parents of boys and girls, teachers, and anyone who deals regularly with children.

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