Boy Brains and Girl Brains: What’s the Difference?

We are continuing our discussion about differences between boys and girls and how they learn. In this post we take a look at gender differences in the most important biological component: the brain.

By Momentous Institute | Jun 11, 2018
Boy Girl Brains

Of course, boys and girls are similar to each other in many ways, and also quite different from each other. How much of this is based on experiences and societal expectations? Is there any biological component? Let’s take a look at the most important biological component: the brain. Science has shown us that male and female brains not only develop differently, but that they are physiologically different as well.

As babies, boys and girls perceive colors differently. Boys tend to perceive colors at the blue end of the spectrum more easily while girls tend to perceive colors at the red end of the spectrum more easily. Neither of these are better than the other, but they are biologically different.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve discussed a variety of topics related to gender and education. We’ve looked at challenges facing boys and girls in education and measures that are being taken to address those challenges. Today, we’re going to look at how understanding the differences between male and female brains can also help parents and educators build better learning environments for boys and girls.

Let’s talk about matter – gray and white matter to be precise.

We’ll keep this simple. Gray and white matter are brain tissues in the brain and spinal cord. Gray matter is where processing occurs in the brain. White matter carries information from gray matter areas to parts of the body.  Think of it this way: gray matter is a computer, and white matter contains the cables networking the computers together so that they can share information.

When it comes to activities, boys and girls use different types of matter. Boys tend to use more gray matter when completing tasks, while girls tend to use more white matter.  What does that mean? Because boys are using more gray matter, they tend to gravitate towards highly task-focused projects, while girls tend to be more efficient at multi-tasking because they are using more white matter.

How can this information be useful for parents and teachers?

The difference in gray matter and white matter in male and female brains is not indicative of an advantage or disadvantage. It is simply a difference. However, it can become an advantage or disadvantage if a learning environment does not take it into consideration.

For instance, task-focused boys will most likely not thrive in an environment where they are constantly switching from one task to another with little time in between. Knowing this, teachers can make sure they balance multitasking and task-focused learning to accommodate the boys and girls in their class.

While we’ve focused primarily on one example of a difference in male and female brains, there are many others. Each difference, if ignored, can put boys and girls at either an advantage or disadvantage in the classroom.

But before we get too black-and-white about the issue, it is also important to note that all students fall somewhere on a spectrum of gender in the brain.

In his book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, Michael Gurian discusses this spectrum:

“Many of the children you have contact with lean toward the female on their brain development spectrum, many others toward the male. Mainly, your girls lean toward the female and the boys toward the male, but you may also notice a number of “bridge brains.” These are boys and girls who possess nearly equal qualities of both the male and female brains. They are, in a sense, the bridge between male and female cultures.”

Gurian recommends that teachers keep a detailed journal with observations so they can see where their students fall on the spectrum. This can allow a teacher to adjust their learning environment accordingly based on the needs of the class. Recognizing and acknowledging gender differences in the brain is important as we move to lessen gender gaps in education.  Understanding how brain physiology and development may lead to challenges in the classroom allows us to create learning environments suited to all students, setting both boys and girls up for success.