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Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It Hardcover – September 14, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Professor of neuroscience at Rosalind Franklin University, Eliot (What's Going On in There?) offers a refreshingly reasonable and reassuring look at recent alarming studies about sex differences in determining the behavior of children. Her levelheaded approach recognizes assertions by the nature versus nurture advocates such as Michael Gurian, Leonard Sax, Louann Brizendine—e.g., boys lag behind girls in early development, are more risk taking and spatially adept, while girls are hardwired for verbal communication and feeling empathy—yet underscores how small the differences really are and what parents can do to resist the harmful stereotyping that grows more entrenched over time. Eliot revisits much of the data showing subtle differences in boy-girl sensory processing, memory and language circuits, brain functioning, and neural speed and efficiency, using clever charts and graphs of her own. However, she emphasizes most convincingly that the brain is marvelously plastic and can remodel itself continually to new experiences, meaning that the child comes into the world with its genetic makeup, but actually growing a boy from those XY cells or a girl from XX cells requires constant interaction with the environment. At the end of each chapter, she lists ways to nip early troubles in the bud—i.e., for boys, language and literacy enrichment; for girls, stimulating movement, visual and spatial awareness. Dense, scholarly but accessible, Eliot's work demonstrates a remarkable clarity of purpose. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
—Margaret Talbot, Staff Writer, The New Yorker
“I wish that Pink Brain, Blue Brain had been available when my children were small. It’s smart about our biology, smart about our culture—and genuinely thought-provoking in considering the way the two intersect. Read it if you’re a parent seeking some savvy insight on child rearing, as a teacher looking to help students—or just read it for the pleasure of understanding yourself a little better.”
—Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women
“Lise Eliot surveys the real science of sex differences in a way that is clear and careful as well as entertaining, and her advice on everything from public policy to parenting is sensible and scientifically grounded.”
— Mark Liberman, University of Pennsylvania
“Lise Eliot covers a wealth of the best scientific work on gender in an accessible and engaging style. The suggestions she offers for raising and teaching children are well grounded in research and readily implemented in practice. Pink Brain, Blue Brain is an excellent resource for parents, educators, and anyone else interested in how boys and girls develop.”
—Lynn S. Liben, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Penn State University
“I can’t stop talking about Pink Brain, Blue Brain. Every time I see a toddler on a playground, or walk into a toy store, I remember some remarkable new fact I learned from Lise Eliot. This book will change the way you think about boys, girls, and how we come to be who we are.”
—Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist
“[a] sharp, information-packed, and wonderfully readable book” —Mother Jones
“This is an important book and highly recommended for parents, teachers, and anyone who works with children.” —Library Journal
“(a) refreshingly reasonable and reassuring look at recent alarming studies about sex differences in determining the behavior of children....Eliot’s work demonstrates a remarkable clarity of purpose.”
“Read [this] masterful book and you'll never view the sex-differences debate the same way again.”
“eye-opening...[a] masterful new book on gender and the brain...Eliot’s contribution in Pink Brain, Blue Brain is to explain, clearly and authoritatively, what the research on brain-based sex difference actually shows, and to offer helpful suggestions about how we can erase the small gaps for our children instead of turning them into larger ones.”—Washington Post
“refreshingly evenhanded...Written in a readable style and organized in chapters ordered by age level, this makes some scientific concepts about brain development accessible to laypeople...Anyone interested in child development and gender studies will be enlightened.” —Booklist
"Considering the nonsense already in print (much of it erroneously presented as scientific fact), Pink Brain, Blue Brain should be required reading for anyone who wants a more thoughtful consideration of how the brains of boys and girls do—but mostly do not—differ." —Science
Top customer reviews
Having also studied the subject of the so-called gender differences in Math and the Physical sciences as a student in a Community College some 10 years ago, I was disturbed by Mr. Gurians assertions, and the lack of evidence to support his claims. I sought a book that would calmly and without polemics, show what is really going on with young men and women in schools.
This book by Dr. Eliot is such a book. Although the book is accessible like the Gurian book, its chapter notes actually contain references to real, independently verified studies of scientific research. I am midway through the book, and at this point, I highly encourage readers of Gurian's books to read this book based on facts first before they get carried away.
It is a well-researched book that is written by someone careful in her characterization of the problem so that you - the academic researcher, student, teacher or administrator - can realize the depth and breadth of the issues.
Unlike many popular science books that have a dumb-down approach, telling us a study is significant and that's it, she actually bothers to tell us how much significant. I find this extremely important.
The overall message can be summed up in a sentence from the book (paraphrasing): "it's not women from venus man from mars, it's women from north dakota, man from south dakota"
On the other hand I think she has two visions before her and they don't combine well. On the one hand she used the analogy whereby she compared to gender socialization to learning different languages, and then a few pages later points out the huge overlap on psychological tests and experiments where boys and girls are tested. She seems to be saying that socialization has this large effect making boys and girls really different, but on the other hand they are really not that different. It is my impression that this does not create insurmountable cognitive dissonance because she places the not that different into the nature basket, and the boys and girls speak different languages into the nurture basket, and somehow the same critical mind she brings to nature, has a kind of double standard when reviewing the nurture studies.
I think her approach struggles with understanding the misery of children raised contrary to their brain sex if socialization was as nearly all powerful as she suggests. I am no expert in this area but was surprised to find a simple search uncovered a number of articles on the differences between the corpus callosum in neonates, and Dr. Eliot was quite emphatic that such differences could not be found.
Eliot begins her book by starting from the very basics of how chromosomes determine an embryo’s sex. A pair made of two X chromosomes results in a girl, while an X and Y pair develop into a boy. After the gender is picked DNA comes into play by activating essential genes. Eliot explains how the Y chromosome is not solely responsible for the development of a male baby. The Y chromosome carries a SRY gene that activates generic glands to form into testes; the SRY gene seem to be the deciding factor for a male or female development. Eliot describes cases where people have had an XY pair but felt and developed into a female because the SRY gene was muted or deleted from their DNA. Similar to the SRY gene, the DAX1 gene can trigger ovary development. Eliot goes on to explain the various ways an embryo’s genetics can be the blueprint for a specific gender but can end up developing into the opposite because of small genes becoming muted or misplaced. She concludes this chapter by pointing out the significant influence of our gender-divided culture and its definition of what it means to be male or female. Her method in explaining how DNA can be a guide to our development is a simple crash-course to how our biological factors can determine our behavior.
Eliot builds on this idea by pointing out the lack of differences between male and female babies. Besides the genital differences a male and female baby resemble each other greatly because the psychical factors are not as evident. Eliot turns to the difference between their brain development and how it may be influenced by what they are presented with. The left hemisphere of an infant’s brain tries to process speech and may focus less on noises, this suggests that even before birth the brain is designed to decipher language. Eliot describes several studies where girls are found to have stronger left hemisphere brain activity than boys. In various case studies girls are found to process speech and learn to speak more quickly than boys. However, Eliot points out that there are individuals who do not meet this theory. Using her own son as an example, she describes his early speech ability to be better compared to her own daughters. Eliot is a mother and has direct contact with infants. Her ability to provide outside input on research can help the reader interpret the science efficiently. She does not cite research as solid theories with blind acceptance; she questions them and compares them with others.
A common theme among Eliot’s book is her tendency to challenge traditional behaviors. In her chapter Under the Pink or Blue Blankie Eliot mentions how parents may stereotype their infants. A female baby can be seen as fragile and is more likely to be held and caressed, while a male baby is played with and thrown into the air. Babies are like sponges and learn at an early age how gender can differentiate how you are treated by others. Throughout her book Eliot brings up advice to avoid conforming to rigid gender roles or expectations. By using evidence found in science she is able to suggest where common stereotypes about gender emerge.
In Chapter 4 Eliot states that girls have shown evidence of developing and maturing faster than boys. In kindergarten girls have a slightly higher academic standing than their male peers. Yet by the fourth grade Eliot explains that female performance in science and math decreases dramatically compared to boys. Eliot never fails to doubt the research or suggest cases where it does not apply. She explains that for nearly every empirical research done on a topic, there is another suggesting the contrary. Although girls are thought to mature faster not all data suggests this to be true.
Eliot does a wonderful job in tying in evidence she stated before toward the end of her book. There has been research done that dyslexia is found in boys twice as much as girls. She explains that because girls have a tendency to develop their parts of the brain that process speech faster it can result in having a slight head start. Boys can be misdiagnosed and the difference between boys and girls with dyslexia can become wider apart. Results from several fMRI studies have found that abnormal structures in people with dyslexia are primarily found in the temporal and parietal lobe of the left hemisphere. Eliot earlier stated that females have an advanced development in these areas.
Eliot concludes her book by explaining the importance of nurturing girls and boys without paying too much attention to gender stereotypes. Female and male babies do start with a slight difference in development, but Eliot primarily blames our culture for cookie-cutter gender roles. Pink Brain Blue Brian was overall a very interesting read. It shed light on the scientific aspect of psychology and sociology while still managing to blend it together. Eliot wrote clearly and by including her own family and experiences she made it seem less like a science book and more like a story.
The book was formatted in a way that made the research and evidence easy to understand. Eliot started from birth and then to adulthood, this gave the reader a clear outline to follow. Although she showed no explicit biases I did notice that she talked slightly more about how girls were compared to boys and failed to find a balance in representing both sexes. Towards the end of the book she summarized her main objective, stating that it’s important to expand children’s interests and stray away from common gender roles. The advice she gave made it seem like parenting advice as opposed to an educational book, but besides this Pink Brain Blue Brain will differently change your viewpoint on gender and the science behind it. It’s definitely an eye-opener for many issues revolving gender. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s wondered about why their spouse or partner seem like they come from a different universe. Overall an interesting and captivating read for any science or psychology nerd!
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