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Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It [Hardcover]

Lise Eliot
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sept. 14 2009

A precise scientific exploration of the differences between boys and girls that breaks down damaging gender stereotypes and offers practical guidance for parents and educators.

 

In the past decade, we've come to accept certain ideas about the differences between males and females—that boys can't focus in a classroom, for instance, and that girls are obsessed with relationships. In Pink Brain, Blue Brain, neuroscientist Lise Eliot turns that thinking on its head. Calling on years of exhaustive research and her own work in the field of neuroplasticity, Eliot argues that infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents and teachers—and the culture at large—unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves intensify the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those “ball-throwing” or “doll-cuddling” circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones. But this, says Eliot, is just what they need to do, and she offers parents and teachers concrete ways to help. Boys are not, in fact, “better at math” but at certain kinds of spatial reasoning. Girls are not naturally more empathetic; they’re allowed to express their feelings. By appreciating how sex differences emerge—rather than assuming them to be fixed biological facts—we can help all children reach their fullest potential, close the troubling gaps between boys and girls, and ultimately end the gender wars that currently divide us.


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“Lise Eliot nimbly refutes the overemphasis on sex differences that has dominated popular thinking in our Mars and Venus age--but without resorting to a facile denial of differences, either. This is a lively, marvelously clear and readable book that combines all the latest research on sex differences with smart, sensible and humane advice to parents on how bring out the fullest potential in both boys and girls.”
—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.”
Publishers Weekly

“Read [this] masterful book and you'll never view the sex-differences debate the same way again.”
Newsweek

“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

About the Author

Lise Eliot is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. The mother of two sons and a daughter, she is also the author of What's Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OKAY! May 22 2011
By Amanda
Format:Hardcover
This book was okay! The research was decent but then the author would put in tidbits about her own experience and raising her children. She is not qualified to make some of the statements she made. The problem was that she over-applied some of the research findings and spoke of things in her own life rather than asking a sociologist to fill in how the research fits in with society. Her experience is not everyone's experience! Considering how she applied the research to her life leaves me questioning the research itself and her understanding of it! There are better books out there on this!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
104 of 121 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for everyone Aug. 7 2009
By Silea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
There are a lot of reasons i should like this book: I'm a math/science/tech-oriented woman, I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, I have an infant son, I've never been terribly girly, etc. Despite all of this, and a habit of reading academic and semi-academic texts, i struggled through this book.

The one thing that really sticks with me after finishing the book is a feeling that the author spent an awful lot more time pointing out studies that have been disproved or discredited, rather than making any positive arguments or citing any validated results. It becomes almost formulaic: she'll discuss a study in some length, including the methods, the results, and the implications, and then pontificate on how this explains observational or anecdotal information. Then she'll tell you that no further studies duplicated the results, so it's all just back to square one. I do appreciate that this is how science goes sometimes, but it's an awfully long book just to say that precious few studies have shown anything at all worth believing.

A lesser complaint is that the author seemed to have trouble deciding what kind of book she was writing. At times, it was a moderately dense scholarly work, with studies and statistics and name-dropping. Other times, it's pure anecdotal accounts, suggesting a vastly less academic target audience. There were also numerous references to her own children, done in such a way as to make it seem briefly like a memoir instead of research.

There are some things i did like about this book. First, the organization. Rather than just being a heap of studies and discussion thereof, it's parsed into age groups. While this does mean that she has to refer back to previous chapters when discussing studies of similar foci but in different age groups, there are demonstrated trends in the level of gender-exclusive behavior based on age, and it does make a great deal of sense to do it this way. Second, at the end of each chapter she includes a list of how to address the topics brought up thus far. For example, at the end of the girls-score-lower-than-boys-on-math-tests chapter, she has an extensive and well-explicated list of tasks and activities for parents to do with their daughters to help mediate the problem. The caveat here is that there's very little to indicate that any of her suggestions will work, but none of them could do much harm either, so if you're concerned about the topic of the chapter, it's probably worthwhile.

In all, i probably wouldn't recommend this book to most people. As much as the author does try to keep the technobabble in the background, there's sufficient academic taint to probably be off-putting to some. Likewise, for people simply curious about the gender gaps but without young children of their own, this book may be a little too practical and a little too casual. But if you, like i, have a strong interest in this subject, and a small child whom you're trying to nurture into a well-rounded adult, it's probably worth the time and effort.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, fact-based information on male and female brains Aug. 31 2009
By Suzanne MN Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Pink Brain, Blue Brain is fascinating. Lise Eliot uses her knowledge and expertise as a neuroscientist to explain to us that we might be relying too much on pseudo-science in the media to inform us of how things really are in regards to boys and girls. We are bombarded not only with pseudo-science, but with actual science that is not explained fully, such as studies on rats, studies on adult brains (who's to say that adult brains developed the way they were based soley on biology?), and studies on children who have been influenced already.

Eliot emphasizes we can't make cut-and-dry declarations about human male and female brains unless we go into fetal studies or newborn studies, which are few and far between. Besides the interesting discussion of science, at the end of each chapter Eliot lists a few things parents and teachers can do to make sure children can live up to their capabilities. The chapters are divided easily into age groups. This book is very helpful to anyone interested in the differences between males and females and wanting a little more scientific oomph than screaming headlines.

***************************

I have to add to this review. This book is not a difficult read if taken in little steps as I did. I wouldn't try to sit down and read it through; it's about neuroscience and includes lots of information and data. The author's point is that we shouldn't believe everything we're told about male and female brains, not without understanding how that data was acquired.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book - but its technical/scientific Oct. 10 2009
By Toodles! - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I was a little torn with how to rate this book. I give it just 4 stars out of 5 because I expected a book that was generally "for parents" and not for the medical/psychology area. On the back of the book it states "And she offers parents and teachers concrete ways to help. Presenting the latest science regarding development from birth to puberty, ..." I zeroed in on the first part - "parents". However, the latter part is more true, she focuses a lot on science. However, I love research and analyzing, so I feel this book was helpful.

Pros:
* Makes footnotes available on the page when needed - this is helpful to expand on the thought or background.
* This is research based and not just what she feels like or pulls out of a hat (although I do believe you can get enough research material to build a case any way you want)
* @ 83 pages of Notes and Bibliography at the end. I love this! If I want more information, I feel like I could dig further if I wanted to.
* Fairly easy to pick up and jump in at various points - you don't have to read cover to cover.

Cons:
* 18 pages of introduction - just get to the point
* seems to linger on topics and points to various research - just make the point
* this seems more technical than I thought it was going to be when I selected the book. I bet it could be even more technical if she wanted it to be - its at least readable for those of us not in Science/Medicine.

My recommendation: It depends. If you like details/analytics - go for it. If you are looking for an easy-to-read Parent book - this is not for you.

about me: female w/ business and IT master degrees and twin toddlers.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting information, but it has some structural issues Aug. 26 2009
By Tethys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I am a geologist, but I found that I was familiar with most of the research presented in the book, because I have read about endocrine disrupters in several books in the past. I was, therefore, a little disappointed that very little research progress seems to have been made over the past 5 yrs since I looked into the subject. And while I appreciate the fact that she did go through the details of some of that previous research and explain why the results were good or bad, I felt it made the book a bit tedious at times. I understand that she was trying to be fair and balanced by presenting all of the research done and discussing all of it in detail. This is a scientist's way of handling a controversial issue.
However, I disagree with other reviewers that including these studies and discussion of them is pointless. I was recently diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and I had read several articles that linked it to Simon Baron-Cohen's extreme male brain hypothesis. I don't feel that I have an extremely male brain, just one that is organized a bit differently than other people, so I already had questions about this hypothesis and found her discussion of his research very useful in understanding that there is no official documentation of this hypothesis.
That said, I think that for the average person there is too much information on the science side and no enough on the tools you can implement side. If this book is really geared toward teachers and parents, then I think the science could have been presented in a more accessible way. I think it would have been more useful if she had discussed a few articles that lead to a specific point (e.g. we can teach girls spatial skills or give them more confidence about their math abilities) and then discuss in detail what parents and teachers can do to encourage development in relationship to that point. I think the problem is that the in-depth discussions are designed to have her work stand up to scientific scrutiny and the tips are designed for parents, so there is no central structure and point of view to the book.
Despite this criticism, I do feel that a lot of the information is useful for both parents and teachers, but it might be better to look at the tips for each age and then work your way back into the research part of the book if you want to know why that was her conclusion.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Answers, finally. Sept. 11 2009
By Barbara Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is an age old question, nature versus nurture, etc. But there are so many influences on babies in utero such as hormones, nutrition and stress. Depending on the growth stage and the influences applied, we can get little synapse influencing building blocks in young brains. Only recently has it come to light that girls are scoring equally or better in the math facility tests that previously boys excelled in. For so long this was the excuse for keeping women out of the fields of medicine and engineering. Nw it seems that teachers' attitudes are what kept girls from mastering the intricasies of theorems and calculus. It also explains the superior results of girls only schools. As a young girl who excelled at mechanics and found myself crawling under the hood of a boyfriend's car to repair it when on a first date,I found later that it was almost a deal breaker. He was intriqued yet appalled by the role reversal. To me, it was a no brainer, I knew how to fix the transmission linkage and he didn't. If we wanted to move, I had to do it. But forty years ago that brought up a whole set of questions about possible homosexuality, or strange behavior because I was a closet grease monkey. This turned out well because we ended up marrying and I have a son who is an engineer with fabulous kitchen skills and is a wonderful father to my grandaughter who at less than two years loves airplanes,trucks and cars. Thanks to this book I know that she would love this no matter what. You will find your bliss. The most important thing we can do is encourage our children and give them educational opportunities, not "stuff". Otherwise all those hormones, excellent food choices and healthy exercise will have been in vain. Forty years have wrought many changes, and we know the post birth influence does not make our children gay or straight any more than we can make them a different race.This lovely book should be kept and reread with every new grandchild so one can have a qualified reference for their opinion!
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