Although every human being is unique, researchers have pinpointed differences in male and female brain development and hormone levels that affect children’s learning styles. According to Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens, authors of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life, here are some of the neurological differences you may notice in the years ahead:
The corpus callosum – a bundle of tissues connecting both hemispheres of the brain – is up to 25% larger in girls than in boys. The corpus callosum is thought to act like a telephone wire, enabling communication between the left and right sides of the brain. The more powerful female corpus callosum is thought to allow girls to excel at multi-tasking.
Girls also have stronger neural connectors in their temporal lobes than boys do. These strong connections enable them to remember detailed sensory information and to pay attention to what they hear, including different tones of voice. Boys, in contrast, may struggle with spoken lessons but learn well when given hands-on tactile learning experiences.
Girls’ frontal lobes develop earlier and are more active than boys’, so girls tend to be less impulsive than boys at this age, and more able to organize, plan, and execute premeditated activity.
- The Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of girls’ brains also develop sooner in girls. Because these are the language centers of the brain, girls tend to develop better language skills and larger vocabularies ahead of their male counterparts. Higher levels of the hormones oxytocin and estrogen also give girls a verbal boost.
The male hippocampus, a memory storage area, functions differently than the female version. Boys tend to take longer to memorize written materials, but excel at memorizing lists and spatially organized data.
- Boys have 15% less blood flow to the brain than girls. Because of this, they can stay focused on one thing for a long time, but may find it difficult to shift gears to another activity. When overstimulated, boys can become angry and aggressive, while girls adapt to the situation more smoothly.The male brain requires “rest states” to recharge itself, while the female brain, with greater blood flow, does not. The boy that's zoned out in front of the television or spacing out in class may actually be resting his brain.
Boys have higher levels of dopamine in the blood, leading to more impulsive behavior, and they process a higher percentage of blood in the cerebellum (the area that controls “doing and physical action”). This may be related to the difficulty many boys face in learning while sitting still. So if your son taps his pencil during class or bounces while you talk, take heart: he may still be taking it all in.
Although the study of neuroscience is growing by leaps and bounds, the human brain is still largely a mystery. However, the differences between male and female brain development can go far in explaining why girls and boys learn differently, and how to capitalize on the skills of each. If your daughter is struggling to decipher a sequence of numbers, for example, she may benefit from talking through it aloud. Likewise, boys may have difficulty remembering a story or word sequence, but acting the story with movements should help the lesson stick.