Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps - And What We Can Do About It Hardcover – Sep 14 2009
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—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
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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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.
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.
Now fast forward 42 years. Today no chemistry teacher would dare to make that kind of boldly sexist statement. However, many well-educated people still believe that boys have a natural edge in math and science, and treat their female daughters or students accordingly. While Dr. Eliot tells us there are subtle differences in the brains of girls and boys, these differences are magnified through "plasticity", a term used to describe the fact that the brain changes in response to its own experience. So parents who buy dolls for little girls and Lego's for little boys are offering experiences which will later help to mold each child's brain.
Perhaps it is time for your children to select a college and career. Just as I did so many years ago, most girls gravitate toward what comes easiest to them and away from technical and quantitative fields. Dr. Eliot tell us that "While reading and writing are important, math has a special place - what some call the critical filter - that determines who can advance to higher-paying and more prestigious jobs." It is fact that math and science are where the money is. Many more women are capable of going into fields requiring these skills than actually do. And we wonder why women still earn less than eighty cents for every dollar earned by men.
All of this is beginning to change as we expect our girls to be more like boys. Girls have soared in response to sports, math, science, and leadership training. The proportion of women majoring in accounting and veterinary medicine has grown from a mere 8 or 9 percent in 1970 to 61 percent in accounting and 74 percent in veterinary medicine. In sharp contrast, women comprise only 20 percent of engineering students and a slightly higher percentage of computer science graduates.
Interestingly, 100 years ago only 20% of college students were women. Take my mom, for example. She is 79 years old and was the salutatorian of her high school class. While she loved learning, there was no money in the family budget for a daughter to go to college. Today mom is the computer "guru" of her "assisted living" community. If anyone, male or female, is having computer problems they know who to call. Hearing about her expertise, the local community college even asked her to teach a computer class for seniors. This woman, steered away from the benefit of a college education, made sure it was offered to and expected of her own daughters. From the time I could say "college", I knew I was going there.
Today the tables have turned 360°. It is our boys we are more worried about ... will they be kicked out of preschool or be unable to attend the college of their choice? Will they fail to launch and continue to live with us well into their adult lives? Girls are surging ahead, making boys appear to be failing. As it turns out, boys' reading, writing, and math scores are on the rise, their dropout rates are down, and more men are going to college, although their percentage of the total college population has declined. So while our concern for the success of our boys has risen, they actually are getting better educated but are left in the shadow of our girls' dramatic improvement.
Parents and educators can help change the challenges our children face because of their sex, and Dr. Eliot explains how step by step. From tips for promoting boys' language and literacy skills, to tips for encouraging our girls to stick with a more rigorous, quantitative curriculum, this book covers it all ... how we can help each brain inside each child become the best that it can be. Each new baby should be delivered with this book ... a manual to help your child achieve his/her full potential. And, of course, it should be required reading for every guidance counselor and teacher. We aren't just made with pink brains or blue brains ... our brains are molded by our life experiences.
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.
* 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.
* 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.
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