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November 2010 | Volume 68 | Number 3
Closing Opportunity Gaps Pages 32-36

The Myth of Pink and Blue Brains

Lise Eliot

If educators hope to close gender gaps, they must abandon the notion of a male and female brain.

Gender differences are a hot topic. But much of the recent discussion about boys' and girls' learning has generated more heat than light. As a neuroscientist who has studied children's cognitive and emotional abilities and, in particular, analyzed gender differences in children's brains, I hope to help set the record straight on this incendiary subject.

Boys and girls differ in many ways—in physical activity level; self-control; and performance levels in reading, writing, and math. Above all, they differ in interests. But most of these differences are nowhere near as large as popular ideas about a "Mars-Venus" gulf imply, nor are they as "hardwired" as current discourse portrays. The truth is that neuroscientists have identified very few reliable differences between boys' and girls' brains. Boys' brains are about 10 percent larger than those of girls, and boys' brains finish growing a year or two later during puberty (Lenroot et al., 2007). But these global differences reflect physical maturation more than mental development.


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