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See Inside His Brain, Her Brain

The Truth about Boys and Girls

The preference for playing hockey, or house, in the brain are small—unless grown-up house, is far from fixed. Sex differences up assumptions magnify them

Parents anticipate sex differences from the first prenatal ultrasound but then seem amazed when their son goes gaga over trucks or their daughter will wear nothing but pink. Boys and girls are obviously different, and in many cases the gaps between them seem stark. But stereotypes do not always hold up to scientific scrutiny. Are boys really more aggressive and girls really more empathetic—or do we just see what we expect in them? Where true sex differences exist, are those gaps inborn, as our current Mars-Venus obsession implies, or shaped by environment—that is, by us?

A natural place to look for answers is in the brain. If there is a neurological disparity between the genders, it could explain important behavioral differences. But surprisingly, researchers have found very few notable differences between boys' and girls' brains, and even some of the widely claimed differences between adult men's and women's brains—such as the idea that women have stronger connections between left and right hemispheres—have not held up to rigorous research. Yes, males have larger brains (and heads) than females—from birth through old age. And girls' brains finish growing earlier than boys'. But neither of these findings explains why boys are more active and girls more verbal or reveals a plausible basis for the consistent gaps in their reading, writing and science test scores that have parents and teachers up in arms.

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