Brain Power

So I picked up a book on sale at Barnes & Noble, called The Female Brain. It’s written by Dr. Louann Brizendine, who is the founder of the Women’s and Teen Girl’s Mood and Hormone Clinic. I picked it up because it was on sale, and because, well, I know a lot of women, and there are certainly times when I don’t have any idea what is going through their heads or what is driving them. So it was an interesting read.

Now, being an English major, I don’t know a lot about the brain and its workings. And being a guy, I really only know things from my own gendered perspective. But the discussion of how differently our gender’s brains are wired was pretty shocking to me. I never would have figured that, basically from birth, women are several times more likely to notice tiny changes in facial expression or tone of voice. Men are pretty much in the dark here, and there are times when it seems like women are mind readers – when in fact they’re just reading things that most men can’t see and have never even realized they were missing.

Women are also wired for community in ways that men are not. While men tend to be focused more on independence and power games, women tend to be much more wired to work towards creating and maintaining social networks. Now, this is obviously a generalization, but, as the author notes when she asked a group of mixed-gender teens, when the boys asked the girls why they tended to go to the bathroom in groups, the girls replied it was because they felt it was the only private place in school they could get together to talk. Now, as a guy, the thought of asking other guys to join me in a school restroom to talk freaks me out – the only time groups of teen boys get together in high school bathrooms is to beat other guys up.

And the way oxytocin – which is a chemical in the brain that helps to create bonding in relationships – flows through a female brain is way different than in men. For women, general touching, long, lingering looks, and kissing cause releases of oxytocin – as does, as the author notes, a 20-second hug. She actually writes “So don’t let a guy hug you unless you plan to trust him.” A similar thing happens with babies, actually – babies give off a scent that causes oxytocin to release in a new mother’s brain, to help with bonding. Oddly, for other women who are not the mother, that same scent can cause something the author calls ‘baby lust’, a sort of obsession with babies that can last for a few months.

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive review of the book, because that would take a long time, and if you’re interested in reading the book then you should have something to look forward to. It covers the development of the female brain from birth until old age, and does so relatively simply. I don’t know that I would say it is invaluable knowledge, but it certainly helps to explain some things, and I found it interesting enough to tear through it in a day. The author has apparently written another book on the male brain, and I’m kind of interested what that has to say – though, being a guy, I imagine that I’ve experienced most of it already.

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4 comments on “Brain Power

  1. Laurel says:

    Quite a fascinating topic. Thanks for sharing Jaime, indeed.

  2. Janice F. says:

    I’m afraid that the book was panned (scathingly!) by all the biologists/ biochemists/ neurologists/ even psychologists both of my acquaintance and… well, pretty much everywhere. And, as a woman and a scientist, I was personally quite offended that she would portray herself as a scientist. So, while I’m sure it’s entertaining, I wouldn’t take it as gospel truth.

    http://www.aas.org/cswa/status/2007/JANUARY2007/TheFemaleBrain.html

    “The text is rife with ‘facts’ that do not exist in the supporting references. A typical example
    is the claim that young boys “physically cannot hear” the cues in the intonation of adult human
    female voices that girls can, “just as bats can hear sounds that even cats and dogs cannot”.
    The references provided (including a paper on songbird brains) require major misunderstanding
    or misrepresentation to be twisted into such a statement, a state of affairs that is repeated
    throughout the book.”

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-teenage-mind/201010/the-female-teen-brain-is-brizendines-book-science-or-opinion

    • Well, that would explain why it was on sale. I suppose that means I can skip her book on the male brain. Now I have to wonder how much of what I read (and understood) was true…

  3. Laurel says:

    Jaime as you know I did brain research for years and years. I would take a psychology book regarding anything brain with a grain of salt given the complexity of it and how you certainly cannot correlate much behavior definitively with a brain structure. Nevertheless these kinds of books are often some food for thought but not gospel indeed. But you are savvy enough to know all that before I posted this:) have a great weekend. I am generally available.

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