Gender Differences in Language Abilities: Evidence from Brain Imaging (page 2)

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Oct 12, 2010

Gender Differences Brain Research Findings

Our fMRI study shows that:
  • Girls had greater brain activity in three known language areas in comparison to boys when completing reading comprehension or word meaning tasks.
    • Inferior frontal gyrus – an area involved in word meanings and other language functions.
    • Superior temporal gyrus on both sides of the brain – involved in sounds of words.
    • Fusiform gyrus on the left side of the brain – area involved in the spelling of words and their visual identification.
  • Boys, as well as girls, use both sides of their brains for language-related activities, but this is more apparent for girls because their language-related brain activity is stronger. Because the right-side brain activity in boys is weaker, the dominance of their left side is more apparent.
  • Girls’ language ability was dominated by auditory/listening areas of the brain for accessing and processing information related to spelling and rhyming.
  • Boys’ language ability was dominated by visual areas of the brain for accessing and processing information related to spelling and rhyming.

Why do these differences exist?

We suggested in our report that the results might reflect the developmental advantage of girls, who are known to be more advanced developmentally through late childhood. If the sensory systems are not developed as fully in boys, a sensory “bottleneck” might occur that limits how completely (or effectively) information about the words projects to the language areas involved in making the language judgments. If so, this gender difference in language processing would disappear when the brain development in boys catches up with girls.


Reliance on different brain areas for accurate language performance suggests that boys and girls are processing language information differently. Parents and teachers should keep the following in mind:
  • Testing Implications: Boys may perform best when tested in the same sensory modality as what was used for learning the information. For example, if the teacher verbally explains something, a boy would do better with a verbal test than a written test.
  • Reading Comprehension Implications: Boys may have to learn by seeing, as well as by hearing. This might be facilitated by parents reading picture books with their young boys, or by older boys reading aloud.
  • Implications for Single-Sex Classrooms and Schools: Some have suggested that our finding of gender differences of language processing supports single-sex classrooms. Although there are valid social reasons why people might choose a unisex classroom, using our results to support this position is simplistic.
We should remember that there is much overlap in language skills among boys and girls, and that overall differences in language skills are small. Our findings of gender differences in the brain would better serve to remind us that not all children process information the same, and that an effective education depends on tailoring the teaching (and testing) methods to the strengths and weaknesses of each child.
  1. Kimura, D. (2000). Sex and cognition. Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book/The MIT Press.
  2. Howell, P., Davis, S., & Williams, R. (2008). Late childhood stuttering. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51(3), 669-687.
  3. Berninger, V. W., Nielsen, K. H., Abbott, R. D., Wijsman, E., & Raskind, W. (2008). Gender differences in severity of writing and reading disabilities. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 151-172.
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