March Book Salute: Pink Brain, Blue Brain

6 Mar

While we’ve all been warned time and again to avoid judging a book by its cover, sometimes a book’s title can be equally misleading. When I first heard of Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot, I immediately thought it was a book discussing the idea that boys and girls are “hard-wired” from the start to be different. I was mistaken. Pink Brain, Blue Brain – How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps-and What We Can Do About It takes that theory to task. Supported by the authors own research in the field of neuroplasticity along with the critiques of many others’ work, Dr. Eliot demonstrates how a few, small biological differences at birth become exacerbated over time through socialization.

When Lise Eliot set out to write this book, she intended to use scientific studies comparing boys’ and girls’ brains to link any differences between the sexes to their developing skills and behaviors. She thought she would “paint a clear picture for readers of how the brain develops in pink and blue.” But as it turns out, Dr. Eliot was as surprised as most of us perusing the book store to realize that the real story here is not about how kids are “hard wired.” After finding little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains, Eliot drew on her own area of expertise – neuroplasticity – to explain how the brain changes in response to its own experiences and that differences may best be explained by how children spend their time.

Weaving in her own parenting perspectives, Lise Eliot communicates scientific research and theory in very accessible ways – a style I totally appreciated having no background in neuroscience myself. Also appreciated is Eliot’s understanding of the realities in which we parents live. She recognizes how difficult it is to prevent our children from being exposed to gender expectations and stereotypes while at the same time highlights the importance of challenging them.   

As Eliot explains the various causes of sex differences in children and their significance, she also aims to show the full range of human potential. Throughout the book she explores the many areas of intelligence worthy of enriching in both sexes. And as stated by the author herself, “Who wouldn’t be more successful with a fuller deck of cognitive and emotional skills?”  


2 Responses to “March Book Salute: Pink Brain, Blue Brain”

  1. Nina Badzin March 9, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Interesting!! I’m always torn on this stuff . . . I don’t want to limit my kids to gender expectations. At the same time, I don’t want to spend their childhood going out of my way to force them out of what they like. If Sam doesn’t want to play with dolls, I don’t want to force him in the spirit of breaking him out of his gender role. You know what I mean?

    Sounds like a good read though. . . Peggy Orenstein’s too.

    • Hillary Manaster March 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      I definitely know what you mean. It’s not about *forcing* neutrality or cross gender interests – it’s about preventing our kids from being limited by gender expectations. Why take kids away from things they like or force them to engage with things that don’t interest them? Kids should be free to explore their options – sometimes their interests are gender-typical, sometimes they’re. But wherever their most personal interests lie, there is always room to discover something new and explore some common ground with peers. So it’s not so much about exposing kids to experiences typical of the other gender as it is about exposing kids to more *experiences.* And if those experiences allow boys and girls to engage with each other in positive ways…..well even better!

      Sent from my iPad

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