Seeing ] Hearing ] [ Engaging ] Processing ] Responding ] Choosing ]



Gender Differences in How Boys and Girls “Engage” the World


Gender differences are based upon groups and averages.  They are not meant to define an individual.  Educators should use gender differences in the same way that they use information regarding multiple intelligences, learning styles, prior experiences, human development, etc.  Information allows a teacher to better understand and interpret her or his students.


I do not conduct research myself.  I read texts, reviews, and articles about gender, gender differences, boys, girls, and education and try to make it accessible to educators and meaningful within classroom instruction.  As such, I have grouped recent research into six broad differences:  Seeing, Hearing, Engaging, Processing, Responding, and Choosing.


There are some important points that must be made before moving forward.


The passages listed below were selected because they all relate to the issue of nervous systems, engaging, or movement.  Educators need not agree with all of these passages, but they should be aware of recent information on how “engaging” affects the learning of students.


  1. Amazingly, the part of the brain that processes movement is the same part of the brain that processes learning.  Brain-Based Learning, page 163 
  2. Boys are unquestionably more active than girls after birth, a difference that grows during early childhood.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 45.
  3. In recognition member test 3 weeks after scanning, highly emotional pictures were remembered best, and remembered better by women than men.  Men and women activated different neural circuits to encode stimuli effectively into memory even when the analysis was restricted to pictures rated equally arousing by both groups.  Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories.  Canli, Turhan et. Al.  PNAS August 6, 2002.  Vol 99, No 16.  10789-10794.
  4. Literacy, boys learn, is not a form of activity, but a pallid substitute for activity; it is not engagement with the world, but a retreat from it.  Misreading Masculinity  Page 42 
  5. More than half of the boys in the study talked about the importance of physical activity, the drive to be doing something at all times.  Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys, page 46.
  6. Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006.  The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less.  The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher.  Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.  Patel. (2011) New York Times Magazine.
  7. Perhaps related to this preference for rough-and-tumble play, boys are also more physically active than girls.  Brain Gender, Page 17 
  8. Rather than constantly suppressing or disapproving of boys’ physicality, we need to adapt to it and structure their environment so young boys can express this drive in safe, respectful ways.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 126
  9. Some research suggests that, whereas many girls may prefer to learn by watching or listening, boys generally prefer to learn by doing, by engaging in some action-oriented task.  Real Boys, page 247.
  10. Starting around ages 2 to 4 and lasting at least until age 10 and perhaps later, boys may be more active than girls as a result of higher basic metabolism.  Teaching the Male Brain, page 49.
  11. The female autonomic nervous system has been shown to be influenced more by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is energized by acetylcholine rather than adrenaline and which causes an unpleasant, nauseated feeling rather than the “thrill” of the sympathetic nervous system.  Why Gender Matters  Page 69 
  12. The results showed that men are more efficient at sweating. While exercise training improves sweating in both sexes, the degree of improvement is greater in men, with the difference becoming even more pronounced as the level of exercise intensity increases. The untrained females had the worst sweating response of all requiring a higher body temperature than the other groups (or work intensity) to begin sweating. In other words, women need to get hotter than men before they get sweaty.  2010, Science Magazine News.
  13. The reticular activating system, which receives incoming sensory data, constitutes our attentional system.  The interaction between the two systems helps us keep our balance, translate thinking into action, and coordinate body movements.  Typical playground games and motions like swinging, rolling, and jumping stimulate this system.  Brain-Based Learning           Page 162 
  14. Yet for many readers, and particularly boys, the attraction of sustained silent reading is baffling.  Nonreaders see it as a form of isolation that runs counter to every social instinct they possess.  Misreading Masculinity  Page 67