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



Gender Differences in How Boys and Girls “Respond” 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 nervous system, responding, or stress.  Educators need not agree with all of these passages, but they should be aware of recent information on how “responding” affects the learning of students.


  1. Adrenaline increases in competitive situations in men but decreases in most women, according to studies by Swedish psychologist Marianne Frankenhaeuser, which show how women’s neuroendocrine systems set them up to experience competition differently from men.  The Sexual Paradox, page 206.
  2. Girls’ pretense tends to involve more cooperative role-playing.  The Essential Difference, page 46
  3. In one study, young boys showed fifty time’s more competition, while girls showed twenty times more turn-taking.  These are everyday examples of large sex differences in empathizing.  The Essential Difference, page 30
  4. It has been suggested that in women the opposite reaction occurs, a response termed tend-and-befriend.  Teaching the Female Brain, page 53.
  5. Many of our successful women listed “winning in competition” as an important positive experience for them.  The third, fourth, and fifth most frequently chosen positive experiences were “award in a talent field,” “exhibition of work at school,” and “school-elected office.”  These are all competitive experiences.  It seems that winning is motivating.  In light of the controversial effort by many schools to eliminate or minimize competition in education, this finding is enlightening.  Coping with winning and losing in competition builds resiliency.  See Jane Win, page 12         
  6. Overall, the cognitive outcomes of acute stress are significantly more positive in males than in females. … The effects of cortisol on working memory have also shown a sexually dimorphic pattern, such that a positive relationship is found in men, while the relationship in women is negative.  Cahill (2009), page 258.
  7. Testosterone, secreted in greater quantities in males, may alter some neural connections related to reading others’ emotional states.  And oxytocin seems to do the reverse.  It seems to help women guess what’s going on inside the heads of other people, enabling them to trust them enough to seek them out especially when they’re stressed, and to feel pleasure and relief when they do.  The Sexual Paradox, Page 112
  8. The flip side of the coin is that boys’ friendships, on average, are less intimate.  There is less mutual self-disclosure, less eye contact, and less physical closeness. The Essential Difference, page 44
  9. The men under the influence of high cortisol levels showed less activity in a key face-processing region of the brain (the fusiform face area or FFA) than the unstressed men did, suggesting that stressful situations diminish the ability of men to evaluate facial expressions. By contrast, the brains of the women under strain worked harder on the faces: in these females, the FFA was more active than it was in women who did not experience the cortisol boost.  Under Threat, Women Bond, Men Withdraw (2010)
  10. This difference in styles of play between girls and boys suggests that girls tend to be more preoccupied with the emotional aspects of relationships, either to become close to someone, or to exclude others from getting between them and their “best friend.”  IN contrast, boys are more preoccupied with the activity itself and its competitive aspects.  The Essential Difference, page 44
  11. This is consistent with McClelland’s (1953  The Achievement Motive) finding that among women the level of achievement motivation is not affected by an “arousal” treatment involving academic competition, while among men it is increased.  Moriarty (1961 article:  coping patters of preschool children in response to intelligence test demands.  Genet.  Psycho.  Mongogr.) observed the task orientation and coping behavior of a group of preschool children while they were taking individually administered intelligence tests.  She found that while girls initially approached the task in a more organized way, as the tasks became harder and failures were encountered, the girls became less integrated in their performance and more desirous of leaving the field than did boys.  The Development of Sex Differences, pages 32-33
  12. under acute stress … Men handled the experience by firing up the amygdala in brain’s right hemisphere [gist].  Their left was comparatively silent.  Women handled the experience with the opposite hemisphere [details].  Brain Rules, page 251
  13. Women rated their emotional experiences as more powerful than men did, and used the left hemisphere (specifically the amygdale) to process them.  In men it was the opposite:  they processed strong emotional stimuli in a network involving the right amygdale.  The different hemispheres recruited by men and women may also reflect how the sexes encode these memories.  Given that language is lateralized on the left, and that most women also encode emotional memories in the left hemisphere, the researchers speculate that women are using some sort of internal language to process and evaluate their emotions as they experience them.  In contrast, men would encode emotions in a more automatic way – in the right amygdale.  The Sexual Paradox, page 117
  14. Women tend to value the development of altruistic, reciprocal relationships.  Such relationships require good empathizing skills.  IN contrast, men tend to value power, politics, and competition.  This patter is fond across widely different cultures and historical periods, and is even found among chimpanzees.  The Essential Difference, page 32