Gender Differences: The Brain Has Eyes–and Ears

Different? Heck yeah! Our blog series on Gender Differences

“There is no such thing as a ‘child’: there are only boys and girls.” ~ Dr. Leonard Sax

Post 2: The Brain Has Eyes–and Ears

We’re running a blog series on the differences between girls and boys, based on our popular podcast episodes, They Sure are Different! Parenting Boys and Girls in a Messy World and Parenting and appreciating the differences between boys and girls. We also recommend Leonard Sax’s classic book Why Gender Matters for more information and data on this issue.  We want parents to understand that they should be attuned to the fact that their youngest boys and girls will develop differently and learn differently. We’re encouraging you to research this for yourself so that you can adjust your expectations accordingly. 

This week, we’re going to talk about gender differences which show up in the very construction of our brain.

It starts with our eyes, which are in many ways an extension of our brain. The retina of a girl contains more cones: this means that girls can perceive more colors. This tends to make girls more attracted to colors, textures, and faces. The brains and eyes of boys contain more rods, which are color-blind and see in black-and white. This makes boys’ eyes and brains more wired to detect direction, location, and speed.  Did you notice that this means that boys and girls literally look at the world differently? 

Because the eyes are an extension of the brain, the way a person sees determines the way their brain processes information. Boys are more easily able to focus on movement, particularly the movement of small balls whizzing through the sky. This is one physical reason why boys gravitate to sports and motion and why girls gravitate towards faces, whether faces on people or on dolls or characters. Infant girls will become fascinated by human faces whereas infant boys are more entertained by mobiles and moving things (like ceiling fans). This tends to make girls and women much better at reading and interpreting facial expressions than boys and men. They can also analyze shades and textures, making them better at identifying what things are and noticing the differences. 

The information from a male eye primes him to notice where something is, where it’s going and how fast it’s moving. The retina of males of both humans and animals is thicker due to the larger amounts of M cells taking information from the rods. The differences between male eyes and female eyes are substantial, with not very much overlap. Maybe this is why we have the popular expression that men and women “see things differently”?

By the way, the differences show up in hearing as well. Studies show that girls of all ages can hear better than boys of the same age, from infants to adults. This is one reason why boys can tend to be louder in talking and movement: they simply don’t realize how loud they are (to a woman’s ears).  This could also be why girls think that their fathers are yelling at them when the dads are convinced they are speaking normally. (One study shows that teenage girls tend to hear best at an amplitude that is 100 times less than the comfortable amplitude of the average middle-aged man.) What this means, notes Dr. Sax, is that men and women can experience the exact same sound in two different ways. (So your teenage daughter and her father are BOTH right!)

Recognizing these differences can help you better understand your child of the opposite sex. Your sons aren’t trying to drive their mom crazy by banging things and yelling. And dads might need to modulate their tone of voice when disciplining their daughters. Your son truly might not notice that his shirt and pants don’t match, and your daughter isn’t crazy for complaining about that fact.

Remember, both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, and we image Him together. Perhaps part of the way we come to know God is through seeing and hearing the world through the eyes and ears of the opposite sex as we learn to know and love each other in family life.. Which contributes to making marriage and family an even greater adventure!