Host Bobbi Emel reports on this information-packed event:
A small but very interested crowd turned out on September 28th, 2009, to hear Dr. Eliot speak on her latest book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It. The low attendance was unfortunate because Dr. Eliot relayed some extremely interesting information about the long-argued nature/nurture debate over the differences between boy and girl children. A researcher in the field of neuroplasticity, Dr. Eliot cites enough studies to support her claims such that the bibliography in her book is 46 pages long! An interesting and approachable speaker, Dr. Eliot acknowledged that she certainly does not have all the answers to the sex difference debate but that no one else does, either. Part of the reason she wrote the book was to refute recent publications that indicate differences between boys and girls are either all about brain differences or all about environmental differences.
In a nutshell, Dr. Eliot says that there are a few differences between boys and girls but they are very, very small. She stated that girls tend to be more verbal and, indeed, girl toddlers do start talking, on average, one month before boys. But only a month - actually a very small difference. She says that studies have shown that, because girls talk earlier, they are talked TO more so they naturally develop higher verbal skills than some boys. Also, boys tend to have better spatial abilities than girls which then often leads to more boys and men being in the science fields than girls and women. Again, though, she says this may be due to the nature of play that boys pursue when they are young: throwing balls, running, jumping, and video games all lead to increased spatial ability.
In her review of the book, Newsweek.com author Sharon Begley gives a clear explanation of the heart of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: the many studies cited by Dr. Eliot.
"In one [study], scientists dressed newborns in gender-neutral clothes and misled adults about their sex. The adults described the "boys" (actually girls) as angry or distressed more often than did adults who thought they were observing girls, and described the "girls" (actually boys) as happy and socially engaged more than adults who knew the babies were boys. Dozens of such disguised-gender experiments have shown that adults perceive baby boys and girls differently, seeing identical behavior through a gender-tinted lens. In another study, mothers estimated how steep a slope their 11-month-olds could crawl down. Moms of boys got it right to within one degree; moms of girls underestimated what their daughters could do by nine degrees, even though there are no differences in the motor skills of infant boys and girls. But that prejudice may cause parents to unconsciously limit their daughter's physical activity. How we perceive children—sociable or remote, physically bold or reticent—shapes how we treat them and therefore what experiences we give them. Since life leaves footprints on the very structure and function of the brain, these various experiences produce sex differences in adult behavior and brains—the result not of innate and inborn nature but of nurture."
Dr. Eliot's book is a comprehensive look at this ongoing conversation about sex differences and includes ideas for parents, teachers, and other adults on how we can help to steer all children toward their full potential.