Cognitive Gender Differences

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010
When girls and boys of the same age get together, it is tempting to focus on the differences rather than the similarities in how they think and solve problems. The stereotype is that girls tend to focus on feelings and boys tend to focus on actions. While there is some research that supports this notion especially during times of stress [1, 2], it is not true of every child.  We must avoid intensifying stereotypes; otherwise, children may believe that some activities are not appropriate for them simply because of their biological sex. Parents are a big factor in helping children develop abilities in which they are interested especially if those interests contradict prevailing gender stereotypes. One little boy saw a man dancing on a children’s TV show and asked to take lessons. His parents encouraged him to take the lessons, even though he was the only boy in the dance class. Later the skills he learned from dancing helped him become an excellent soccer player. 

Verbal Skills

The average 20-month old little girl has twice the vocabulary of the average 20-month old boy. Because toddler girls begin to talk sooner and more clearly than boys [3] they have more practice. That earlier speech probably is the source of the stereotype that girls have better verbal skills. However, it is important to remember that boys will catch up later although if nothing is done to help boys improve, they may always seem like they are less verbal than girls. It is very important for boys to be included in conversations with parents and other family members. Girls are likely to have something to say, but boys may need to be encouraged.

Some verbal skills such as analogies appear to have a male advantage [4, 5]. One belief is that some female’s ruminative cognitive style leads them to consider every choice in an analogy and be more likely to change their answers [6]. Males were more likely to find the answer and move on. Remember, this will be true for many children but not for all. However, if there are problems in verbal ability, males are much more likely to be diagnosed with stuttering [7] and problems with handwriting [8]. There are some indications that boys have trouble with reading [8] although more recent information indicates that the problem is more obvious when a child is reading orally; on reading tests, boys and girls performed the same as long at the test did not require writing, an area in which boys had more trouble [8]. Some reading problems in boys may simply need time and reading to your son every night will help him more than anything else you can do. 

There is no difference in Males and females have similar verbal intelligence in spite of the fact that males are less likely to read for pleasure than females are. The problem is that by the time males have caught up to females in verbal skills, they may have never acquired the habit of reading and continue to believe that their verbal skills are not at the same level as those of females.

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