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



Gender Differences in How Boys and Girls “Process” 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 the brain, processing, or influence of emotions.  Educators need not agree with all of these passages, but they should be aware of recent information on how “processing” affects the learning of students.


  1. A woman discovers herself through context and relationships.  Nurturing the Gifted Female, page 66.
  2. African American females, both adults and teens, tend to be androgynous more so than traditionally feminine or masculine.  This means that they tend to have both high masculine and high feminine beliefs.  This is not to say that all African American adolescent girls are androgynous, but they are more so when compared to girls from other ethnic groups.  African-American Girls, page 19.
  3. An important phenomenon that was observed in this section is that when science is just presented as memorization, it does not inspire these young women.  Swimming Against the Tide, page 37.
  4. At the risk of over generalizing, girls are apt to see relationships and react to moods in literature, whereas boys focus on information.  Gender in Urban Education, page 78.
  5. Boys and men are more aggressive than girls and women in several contexts.  This sex difference is also seen in many cultures. Brain Gender, page 16
  6. Boys need to have shame-free time to process their emotions. … Boys need both time and space to come up with words that will articulate their feelings once they’re ready to talk.  Orally criticizing a boy generally compounds the problem.  Boys in Crisis, page 69.
  7. But recent studies suggest that there are at least two areas of growth where the two sexes may have somewhat different timetables.  One is language development, and the other is the development of the inhibitory capacities that underlie emotional self-regulation.  In both of these areas, there are scattered, intriguing findings pointing to faster maturation for girls, on the average, in the second and third years of life.  Possibly, too, girls’ development in these areas may not be just faster, but also different.  At least, recent evidence points to a somewhat different form of cerebral organization of the language function in boys and girls. The Two Sexes, page 116. 
  8. But that change occurs only in girls.  In boys the locus of brain activity associated with negative emotion remains stuck in the amygdala. … brain activity associated with negative emotion was mostly up in the cerebral cortex, whereas in young men it remained stuck down in the amygdala.  Why Gender Matters, page 29.
  9. Elizabeth Sowell’s work at UCLA suggests that the frontal lobes of girls mature faster than those of boys during puberty.  But both genders are generally poor at reading and interpreting emotions. … Generally, girls “connect the dots” earlier than boys in both emotional and cognitive functions.  While most brains become physically mature between the ages of eighteen and thirty, it takes boys until about age twenty-four to catch up to girls’ brain development.  Enriching the Brain, page 102. 
  10. Emotional events receive preferential processing.  Emotions give us a more activated and chemically stimulated brain, which helps us recall things better.  The more intense the amygdala arousal, the stronger the imprint.   Brain-Based Learning, page 208.
  11. Even though the boys believed in the importance of school literacy in theory … they often rejected and resisted it in actual practice because it was not related to immediate interests and needs.  Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys, page 94.
  12. Finally, it was important for me a few days later to smile and talk to Sylvia, and give her an important public task to do, and to make it clear that life goes on and we learn from our mistakes.  Girls Will Be Girls, page 57. 
  13. Findings indicate that as children mature, the amygdale increases in size more for males and that hippocampus more for females.  In addition, the latter study found that increase in the amygdala were associated with academic strengths in the areas of vocabulary, basic arithmetic, reading single words, and total estimated intellectual ability.  Increases in the hippocampus were associated with academic strengths in spelling, reading, and verbal intelligence, and increases in the right hippocampus were associated with academic strength in mathematical calculations.  Teaching the Male Brain, page 18. 
  14. For children to become self-governing, three things must be present:  choices, consequences, and parameters.  Boys in Crisis, page 77 
  15. For women, language functions in a different way:  it is used to develop and maintain intimate, reciprocal relationships, especially with other females.  The Essential Difference, page 50. 
  16. Furthermore, understanding emotional giftedness and the strong sensitivities that accompany it is key to our insight into the world of the gifted female.  Nurturing the Gifted Female, page 8.
  17. Girls perceive danger in their lives as isolation, specially the fear that by standing out they will be abandoned.  Boys, however, describe danger as a fear of entrapment or smothering.  Odd Girl Out, page 30. 
  18. Girls, on average, are more fluid talkers and writers than boys.  They speak earlier than boys, talk faster, use more words, generate longer sentences, and make fewer mistakes.  The Sexual Paradox, page 37
  19. Hear, Empathize (essential for validating the person), Apologize (in the sense of regret that the situation happened), Take action  Boys in Crisis, page 64
  20. Hormones may be a factor in these gender differences, she said. For example, it's known that estrogen plays a role in migraines, and that rates of pain conditions increase among girls as they pass through puberty. Among adolescent boys, rates of pain conditions are stable or rise less dramatically.  Some research suggests that women and men may respond differently to pain medications.  "Genetic and hormonal differences may be the main reason for any differences, but it's becoming increasingly clear that social and psychological factors are also important," Kelly said.  … "Women tend to focus on the emotional aspects of pain," she explained. "Men tend to focus on the physical sensations they experience. Women who concentrate on the emotional aspects of their pain may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative."  Business Week (2011)
  21. However, research indicates that the female brain usually has more amygdala involvement than the male brain under the same circumstances.  Girls Will Be Girls, page 43 
  22. I have spent more than three decades collecting and analyzing thousands of examples of how women and men interact and have found that men’s talk tends to focus on hierarchy—competition for relative power—whereas women’s tends to focus on connection—relative closeness or distance. In other words, a man and woman might walk away from the same conversation asking different questions: he might wonder, “Did that conversation put me in a one-up or one-down position?” whereas she might wonder, “Did it bring us closer or push us farther apart?”  He Said, She Said (2010)
  23. If there are set consequences for every perceived transgression, it discourages the young girl from healthy risk-taking in the formative years, hurries her down the path of being a pleaser, and often makes her view of herself and her self-esteem dependent on the world’s reactions to her.  Girls Will Be Girls, page 56 
  24. If we want to decrease the numbers of our young men entering prisons; being placed on the rosters of the hopeless and homeless; and losing their lives on the urban battlefields of America, we must empower them to believe that they can take charge of their lives and control their destinies.  Empowering African-American Males to Succeed, page xix.
  25. In each case, the systemitizer expresses how a particular input produces a particular output following a particular operation.   The Essential Difference, page 66 
  26. In general:  Girls talk more with each other; boys do more with each other; girls handle conflict less directly than boys; Girls seem to display more emotion in their relationships; Boys seem to display more physicality in their relationships.  Girls Will Be Girls, page 197 
  27. In other words, this decline [drop in pride in school work] matters more for girls because school matters more to them.  It matters less to boys because school matters less to them.  Misreading Masculinity, page 39
  28. In You Just Don’t Understand:  Women and Men in Conversation (2001), Deborah Tannen has described the conversational styles of men and women.  She argues that whereas women often use talk to make or build relationships, men often use talk in a more competitive way, to establish a pecking order.  Men talk about things; women talk about people.  Men talk about facts; women talk about feelings.  Men give information when they talk; women use talk to gain information. Boy Writers, page 83
  29. Including Violence in Boy’s Stories.  A wider zone of engagement:  boys will be more invested in their writing and in the workshop as a whole when they see that they can bring their passions with it. …Through written language they can safely grapple with power and danger, issues that make up a big part of a boy’s internal world.  Boy Writers, page 54
  30. It’s true, then, that girls are more empathetic than boys.  But the difference is small and clearly shaped by learning.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 77,
  31. Male brains are simply less versatile when it comes to language, whether written or spoken. … MRI studies show that males have most language functions localized in the left hemisphere.  Meanwhile, most females use both hemispheres for language.  The Sexual Paradox, page 45.
  32. Most females are slightly predisposed … language facility, auditory skills, fine motor skills, sequential/detailed thinking. … more decentralized brain that uses many parts for a singular task; a more integrated brain … and a more developed corpus callosum … In everyday activity, a girl views the moment with both the rational and emotional parts of her brain, so that seemingly unemotional situations contain an emotional component for her.  Girls Will Be Girls, page 43-44 
  33. Most notably, it is strong, supportive relationships with teachers that makes for the difference between low SES minority youth who succeed academically (even in the difficult mathematics and science curriculum) and those who do not.  Swimming Against the Tide, Page 45.
  34. On average, women produce more words in a given period, fewer speech errors … and perform better in the ability to discriminate speech sounds … than do men.  Their average sentences are also longer, and their utterances show standard grammatical structure and correct pronunciation more often.  The Essential Difference, page 57 
  35. One important strategy, therefore, for helping girls feel more confident in mathematics is to begin the class by asking them how they feel about the math, using their stories – both positive and negative – to revise teaching strategies  creates an environment more conducive to learning in which girls (and boys) will feel more engaged and connected to the subject.  Gender in Urban Education, page 114
  36. Overall, though, boys are slower than girls when it comes to developing the self-control that is essential for success in school and other social situations.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 148
  37. Psychological studies have found better memory in women than men for emotional events, but the neural basis for this difference is unknown. We used event-related functional MRI to assess whether sex differences in memory for emotional stimuli is associated with activation of different neural systems in men and women. Brain activation in 12 men and 12 women was recorded while they rated their experience of emotional arousal in response to neutral and emotionally negative pictures. In a recognition memory test 3 weeks after scanning, highly emotional pictures were remembered best, and remembered better by women than by 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. Men activated significantly more structures than women in a network that included the right amygdala, whereas women activated significantly fewer structures in a network that included the left amygdala. Women had significantly more brain regions where activation correlated with both ongoing evaluation of emotional experience and with subsequent memory for the most emotionally arousing pictures. Greater overlap in brain regions sensitive to current emotion and contributing to subsequent memory may be a neural mechanism for emotions to enhance memory more powerfully in women than in men.   Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories. 
  38. Rigid formulas that say “If you do A, then B will happen” don’t work.  They don’t take into account the total situation.   Girls Will Be Girls Page 55 
  39. The amygdala (which responds to emotional stimulation), loaded with testosterone receptors, grows more rapidly in teenage boys than in teenage girls, and its final size is larger in men than in women. … Follow-up studies noted that females remembered the details of an emotional event better than males, whereas males remembered better the central aspects, or gist, of the situation. … Meanwhile, the hippocampus (responsible for memory formation and consolidation), filled with estrogen receptors, grows more rapidly in girls than boys during adolescence.  How the Brain Learns,  page 173 
  40. The amygdala exerts a tremendous influence over our cortex.  The cortex, for example, has more inputs from the amygdala than the reverse; yet the information flows both ways.  Brain-Based Learning, page 203
  41. The boys talked about needed a place where they could be themselves.  Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys, page 42.
  42. The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy.  The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.  The Essential Difference, page 1 
  43. The intensity of girls’ relationships belongs at the center of any analysis of girls’ aggression.  Odd Girl Out, page 30 
  44. The relationship itself is often the weapon which girls’ battles are fought.  Odd Girl Out, page 31 
  45. The unique frontal activity in women has been interpreted as evidence of a different cognitive strategy to solving mental rotation problems. It has been suggested that these superior frontal regions may indicate conscious recall or internal verbalization, suggesting a more effortful, ‘‘serial’’ approach compared to the ‘‘gestalt’’ approach employed by men.  Cahill (2009), page 252.
  46. There was also a gender difference noted. Girls who participated in heavy drinking performed poorly on measures related to spatial functioning. Spatial functioning is linked closely with skills in mathematics. Male adolescents who drank heavily performed poorly on measures of attention, showing that their ability to focus on a topic for a period of time might be compromised. The difference between the ability to focus between those who drank heavily and those who abstained was 10 percent, a significant difference.  (2010)  Teen Drug Abuse.
  47. There's a gender difference, the study says. On average, boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day while girls will send and receive 80 messages each day. As well, 86% of girls said they text message friends several times a day, compared to 64% of boys. As well, 59% of girls said they call their friends on their cellphone every day, but just 42% of boys said they call friends daily.  Toronto Sun (2010).
  48. These researchers found that while the areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys, the areas of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls.  These researchers concluded that the areas of the brain involved in language, in spatial memory, in motor coordination, and in getting along with other people develop in “different order, time, and rate” in girls compared with boys.  Why Gender Matters, page 93
  49. Through social interaction, innate differences can be changed in both males and females. …Environmental and social influences can help males become far more (and deeper) than a competitive being who must win.  The largest step, however, is for the male to become emotionally connected to himself.  To achieve this, boys must overcome one major difference between themselves and girls – a lack of facility with language to articulate thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  Boys in Crisis, page 17    
  50. Thus, while relationships are important to all females, they may be especially so to African American females given the relational values of both people of African descent and females.  African-American Girls, page 17.
  51. We found that a national indicator of implicit gender-science stereotyping was related to nations’ sex differences in science and math achievement.  National differences in gender-science stereotypes predict national sex differences in science and math achievement.  Nosek, Brian et. Al.  PNAS, June 30, 2009.  Vol. 106, no. 26.  10593-10597.
  52. Without the words, feelings that cause pain are often suppressed, leading to anger, and may at some point erupt into rage.  Boys in Crisis, page 37          
  53. Yes, girls are more verbally precocious and tend to speak in longer, clearer sentences during the preschool years.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 146.