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



Gender Differences in How Boys and Girls “See” 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 eyes, seeing, or vision.  Educators need not agree with all of these passages, but they should be aware of recent information on how “seeing” affects the learning of students.


  1. Boys, on average, orient themselves more to physical objects (e.g., colored lights) and to physical space more than girls do, whereas girls orient themselves more to people.  Men show a number of advantages associated with the visual system as well, even though women have more sensitive sensory systems in the areas of touch, smell, taste, and hearing.  Men have sharper vision than women do and are better at detecting the orientation and the relative movement of single objects within an array of objects.  Male, Female:  The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, page 283.
  2. Females are also better at recognizing different types of emotions in others.  How the Brain Learns, page 175. 
  3. I have argued that this problem – this construction of literacy as feminized – cannot be countered if schools fail to be self-critical about what counts and does not count as valid literacy activity.  In the end, a broadening of the literacy spectrum will not only benefit boys; it will benefit any student whose primary affiliation is to the “low status” popular narratives of television, movies, comics, humor, sports pages, and plot-driven fiction. Misreading Masculinity, page 170. 
  4. If you are asked to throw objects at a target, such as playing darts, men are more accurate in such throwing accuracy.  The Essential Difference, page 79. 
  5. In terms of phonics or spelling readiness, girls can and do move into reading earlier than boys, often up to two years earlier.  Boys are able to do spatial tasks – building those Lego models, for instance – much earlier than girls are. Girls Will Be Girls, page 42. 
  6. Literacy development is dependent upon obsessive interests, ones strong enough to sustain the writer in the often-laborious task of developing an extended piece of writing.  Misreading Masculinity, page 172. 
  7. Males do indeed have an innate advantage for this type of spatial ability, just as females seem to have an inborn edge in certain verbal skills.  Pink Brain, Blue Brain, page 217.
  8. Many boys experience something similar during a writing conference.  They feel judged for what they choose to write about (topic), how they write about it (with wild action, slang, zany humor), and how the writing looks on the page (penmanship).  Conferring well with boys requires new understandings, new skills, and a new openness to the passions boys reveal in their writing.  Boy Writers, page 91.
    Many educators would agree that drawing serves the developmental needs of primary children.  Here I’d like to put forth the more radical idea that upper-grade boys, too, would greatly benefit from drawing as part of their composing pieces.  Boy Writers, page 119.
  9. Men see better in brighter light; while women’s eyesight is superior at night.  Females are more sensitive to the red end of the spectrum; they excel at visual memory; are superior at interpreting facial clues and context. … Women were able to store more random and irrelevant visual information than men.  Brain Based Learning, page 95. 
  10. Near threshold, males and females showed similar BOLD signal change to red light, but males showed a threefold greater increase to blue light stimulation when compared to females.  Sex differences in response to red and blue light in human primary visual cortex:  a bold fMRI study.  Cowan, Ronald, et. al.  Psychiatry Research:  Neuroimaging Section 100 (2000) 129 – 138.  Page 129.
  11. Numerous studies of recall of life events reveal a female advantage in autobiographical memory. Compared to men, women’s recall is more accurate and more specifically detailed. When not specifically prompted, women’s narratives are longer than are men’s.  Cahill (2009), page 256.
  12. On another quite different ability related to the use of words, however, women are consistently better.  This is in the recall of words or of material that can readily be mediated verbally. … The difference between men and women in verbal memory may be stronger when recall of a meaningful text or paragraph is required, and this sex difference emerges across cultures.  Sex and Cognition, page 95.
  13. One finds that most men and boys are better able to spot movement than are girls and women.  The Essential Difference, page 76.        
  14. Our brain’s attention priority is to wavelengths of color, light, darkness, motion, form, and depth; thus, these elements can provide a basis for attracting your learners’ attention. Brain-Based Learning, page 56.
  15. Quite simply, attract the brain with movement, contrast, and color changes. Brain-Based Learning, page 56.     
  16. Some degree of obsessiveness, even narrowness, is essential for literacy development.  Misreading Masculinity, page 183. 
  17. Study of newborn babies on the day they were born:  “The boy babies were much more interested in the mobile than in the young woman’s face.  The girl babies were more likely to look at the face.” Why Gender Matters, page 19.
  18. Substantial evidence indicates that the right hemisphere is biased toward the processing of more global, ‘‘gist’’ aspects of a stimulus or scene, while the left hemisphere is biased toward more local, finer detail processing of the same stimulus or scene.  Cahill (2009), page 259.
  19. The pathways more active in girls respond to warmer colors such as pink and red and respond to the shape and form of objects.  The pathways more active in boys respond to cooler colors such as blue and green and respond to motion. … Girls’ ability to solve problems is greater in the presence of 3000K lights, which are described as warm light – slightly pink.  Boys’ problem solving ability was enhanced in 4000K lights, which are cool – slightly blue.  Similar results for long-term recall and mood under the two types of light were found for girls and boys.  Teaching the Male Brain, page 32. 
  20. The way that boys learn best is to manipulate their environment. … Provide learning opportunities that begin with manipulatives.  Teaching the Male Brain, page 39. 
  21. To state my point more axiomatically, unless we can persuade students that reading is a form of deep, sustained pleasure, they will not choose to read; and because they will not choose to read, they will not develop the skills to make them good readers. Misreading Masculinity, page 65.
  22. We have seen in this chapter that females are better decoders of nonverbal expressions than are males, and that this result is very consistent and of moderate size.  It shows up in a large proportion of the published studies and is present over various ages of the subjects and the sex of the expressors.  The main qualifying factor that has been uncovered is the channel of nonverbal communication being judged:  though females are reliably better than males in decoding nonverbal cues, their advantage is most pronounced for facial cues, less pronounced for body cues, and least pronounced for vocal cues.  We have also seen that females past infancy are somewhat better skilled at recognizing faces than are males in their samples, though the connection between this skill and decoding skill is unknown.  Nonverbal Sex Differences, page 27       
  23. When speaking first begins, girls on average articulate earlier and better than boys, and produce longer sentences.  To the extent that they speak earlier, they also have larger working vocabularies at very young ages.  Girls speak more grammatically as well, and there is universal agreement that girls are better spellers than boys are – again on average.  Reading is also typically superior in girls.  Sex and Cognition, page 91          
  24. Women appear to have a higher tolerance for light, men preferring only about a half as much light as women. Teaching the Male Brain  Page 20