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Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps — and What We Can Do About It

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  536 ratings  ·  116 reviews
In the past decade, we'veheard a lotabout the innate differences between males and females. As a result, we've come to accept that boys can't focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships. That's just the way they're built. In Pink Brain Blue Brain, neuroscientist Lise Eliot turns that thinking on its head. Based on years of exhaustive research and her own ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 14th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,408)
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Caris
Apr 18, 2010 Caris rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
My grandma swears by estrogen injections. A long time ago, perhaps on the seventh day, a doctor she trusted very much started her on them and told her to never, ever stop getting them. She continued, as the estrogen made her feel good. As it turns out, lots of doctors did this. Estrogen was considered to be some kind of miracle cure; it elevated mood and enhanced overall functioning.

But in 2003, after something like thirty years of longitudinal study, it was determined that high levels of estrog
...more
Alison Dellit
This was one of several books I picked up after I decided that I was just getting too uncomfortable with the discussion about boys and girls innate differences. Discovering feminism in the 80s, for me feminism was in large part defined by the idea that girls could do everything that boys could. Over the last 30 years, it felt insidiously as if the nature vs nuture debate pendulum had swung back in the opposite direction.

Of the books I picked up, this was easily, easily my favourite. I wish I cou
...more
Jacinda
I was deeply disappointed by this book. Repeatedly, the author tells us that some difference between girls and boys is insignificant compared to variation within each group -- then goes on to discuss at length how parents and teachers should accommodate these important differences. WTF? If the differences are that small, then parents of boys do not, in fact, need to talk to them more in order to make up for their naturally poorer language skills (for example). I fail to see how encouraging this ...more
Amanda
I have mixed feelings about this book:

PRO:
*The author knows her science and presents facts in a very levelheaded way. Sources are fastidiously documented in a nearly 100 page appendix.
*The author discusses both boys and girls, the sexist views our society holds and how those views effects their development
*The author offers suggestions for helping children nurture talents that may not be their preferred way of behaving

CONS:
*The author rarely shows any engagement with the subject and the brief mo
...more
Emily
I started to read this, but decided to quit early on. The writer's lazy conflation of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and phenotype was bad enough, but claiming that babies with ambiguous genitalia should, by default, be given surgery to create male genitals and raised as male was the last straw. That is a terrible idea. The author is very clear about being a fan of traditional gender roles and treating boys and girls completely differently even though, as she admits, the ...more
Dominic
Ever since I've been in college, I've been studying, reading about and challenging others about gender stereotypes, perceived and biological gender differences, and alternatives to traditional gender roles. Now that I am going to embark on the awesome journey of raising a child, I'm happy to have come across Lise Eliot's thoughtful and well-argued book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain. It gave me an opportunity, now three months before my baby's birth, to review and potentially revise some of my stances ...more
Shannon
Aug 04, 2014 Shannon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Parents
Shelves: parenting
Abbreviated review - full review appears on Amazon.Com

Lise Eliot's book focuses primarily on the slight differences between male and female brains in prenatal fetuses and in infants, and how those differences may grow over time through cultural influences. She distinguishes between the effects of hormones, developmental differences, and cultural expectations and impacts. What is particularly notable is that she never makes a statement without listing an associated study. In fact, she takes apart
...more
Marie
As the mother of three sons, I've always been interested in learning more about what is hardwired into males and females, and what is influenced by environment. So when I heard about this book, I immediately put it on hold at the library.

Eliot is a neuroscientist, a graduate from Harvard and Columbia, an associate professor of neuroscience, and mother of two sons and a daughter. The basic premise of the book is that although yes, males and females have biologically based differences, many of ou
...more
Sébaste Gagné
This book could have been so great. I was really excited about reading this, at first. I was like "yeaaah, brain plasticity!! :D i'm so excited about learning more about that!! let's destroy neurosexism!!"... And then the author missed so many great opportunities.

I feel like she had good intentions when writing this, really. I feel like she actually wanted to debunk a lot of gender stereotypes that are very present in our society. But in the end, she does spend a lot of time reinforcing the ste
...more
Histteach24
The book was very informative but I found it slow through the "brain talk". Mind you I know this was written by a neuroscience professional and not a psychologist. I only discovered that after already starting the book. I was expecting it to be more case studies, less science, so it was my fault for not reading about the author beforehand.
Regardless, she made interesting points that can be used by educators and parents. Of course, you probably should read the book as you prepare to have children
...more
Sarah
Pink Brain, Blue Brain is a thorough investigation into gender differences by neuroscientist Lise Eliot. With a nuanced and scientific perspective, she delves into all the major cognitive gender differences observed in children and adults and explores the source of these differences. Initial chapters focus first on babies, then toddlers, then preschoolers and older, and later chapters address verbal differences, math differences, and emotional/interpersonal differences.

The major concept that th
...more
Veronica
Eliot takes a much debated issue - are girls and boys fundamentally different? - and sets out with a well restrained heart. Eliot painstakingly goes thru all available scientific research and popular culture books to sort out the truth. Are men from Mars and women from Venus? In a nutshell, no.

What Eliot does is walk us thru the research, data and the facts about the differences. I say painstakingly because this 315 page tome has almost 40 pages of endnotes and 45 pages of bibliography and zero
...more
Sally
This careful yet very readable examination of scientific research on brain differences between the sexes -- prenatal, infant, childhood, teen -- is an antidote to media hype about vast, obvious differences. A brain scientist, the author details the biological differences (or lack of difference) revealed by current research and suggests strategies for parents and teachers to help children of both sexes reach their full potentials. She points out that much research on sex differences in male/femal ...more
Shana
(This is my review and it was originally posted on Elevate Difference).

Given the heavy media coverage about studies that “prove” significant, inborn differences between males and females, it is no surprise that we excuse or accept certain behaviors depending on whether they come from a boy or a girl. We are often led to believe that it is natural for a boy to be athletic and for a girl to demonstrate more empathy because it is part of their biology and something that cannot be helped one way or
...more
Lisa
This book was great. It does away with many old myths and presumptions about boys and girls. Here are 9 things I will never forget after reading this book. #1 The corpus callosum is the same in both sexes. #2 There is a "first puberty" at 3 months. #3 soy formula is banned in the UK. #4 pushing more writing ability in Kindergarten doesn't necessarily benefit boys because of their slower rate to develop fine motor skills. #5 most elementary school teachers are female, which can have all kinds of ...more
Lara
Eliot offers a good rebuttal to Sax, but still falls short of really challenging the way we think about gender. She is very essentialist and normalizing, just like Sax, in her distinctions between boys and girls. I'm very against using "science" to "prove" differences between gender. Science can only prove sexual differences, not gender. Sex is biological; gender is much more complicated. She does not offer any insight into the influences of race, culture, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexuality (w ...more
Vanessa
I was really excited about this one, but I cannot go further. The book (or I should say the writer) is extremely gender essentialist and it just rubs me the wrong way. A lot of swooping generalizations and no conversation about gender that is significant. I love science but I don't like science meddling with gender. Why? Because gender is socially constructed. This is my opinion, though. As a feminist who believes that gender doesn't just include FEMALE or MALE, I just had to put it down.

What r
...more
Marissa Morrison
I think that this book is an important one. Eliot shows how gender differences occur naturally and become stronger through nurture. Since young children are strongly influenced by their gender identity and tend to self-segregate, it's up to parents to strongly nudge them toward "opposite gender" toys and activities. A typical girl spends hundreds of hours in the preschool years playing mommy in her toy kitchen or painting at an easel--so she will grow stronger in verbal, empathetic, and fine mot ...more
Allison
Enjoyed this, for the easy access to her sources if anything. A good summary of how the gender gap isn't so big after all (or shouldn't be). I'd be wary of some of the reviews on this page -- they seem to be misinterpreting the author, who, while pretty obviously writing from a heteronormative perspective, isn't as god awful as she is being interpreted to be. I really feel like the book is written from a perspective to appeal to the mass (also heteronormative) parenting crowd, and in doing so in ...more
Holly
Jun 04, 2012 Holly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all the parents, ever
Recommended to Holly by: Barbara Trailanoia
I really enjoyed reading this book up until the minutes I stopped reading it. It was indformative, and well written, and had actual tips and things to do to help your child. I loved it. But the second I stopped reading it, I stopped thinking about it. I want to finish it, but I haven't the inclination. To the try-again-later shelf you go, Pink Brain, Blue Brain!
Tiffany
I'm just gonna go ahead and rate this 5 stars right now, even though I'm only halfway through. This book is totally informative, gives all kinds of evidence to back up claims, and makes me think! Should be a must-read for every parent, teacher, guardian, etc.
Gail
Determined to figure out how much of my toddlers’ divergent behavior is based upon innate gender difference, I read Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender and the first 100 pages of Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain (the introduction and chapters covering prenatal development and infancy, since both authors agree that these periods are key to determining whether only nurture is to blame for pre-pubertal differences between boys and girls). Though the two writers agree on just about every scientif ...more
Katie G
This was a good book overall, though I had a few issues with parts of the book. I liked the way she made science accessible for the average person without sounding like she was dumbing anything down. She includes a lot of research and explains it in a way that makes a lot of sense. I also enjoyed how she reviewed other people's talk of studies and pointed out how they could reach different conclusions than she did.

Of course, it's easy to like a book when you agree with the conclusion. I loved t
...more
Eva Shang
Another librarian recommendation--I don't read books like this willingly, but in this case, I was forced to check it out.
It was boring. I'll be honest. I'm not big on the science of brains, and all my biology knowledge is gone, so I basically just skimmed it.
It speaks a lot of truth though, particularly about how perceived gender differences are mainly because of society--we don't LET little girls play with trains and cars, we don't LET little boys play with dolls. So therefore, little girls g
...more
Meg
Excellent book. Scientific, yet straightforward and enjoyable to read. Nuanced, yet clear. The author has a refreshing willingness to take into account both biological and cultural/ social forces. Also, I really felt that she didn't go into writing this book with the attitude "I'm going to prove A, B, or C," but really just wanted to examine the research and write about what it indicates. This is rare - often authors on both sides of the nature/ nurture debate are very attached to the outcomes, ...more
Jean Godwin Carroll
Ok, so after finishing it, I liked the author's point of view (nature is there, but nuture shapes it). However, she tended to inject her own opinions a little too frequently, which annoyed me.

The author takes on the nature/nuture polemic in this book. Her stance is that we magnify small biological differences (nature) and turn them into troublesome gaps by the way we raise girls and boys (nuture).

Sample quotes from the introduction:

"...the male-female differences that have the most impact - cog
...more
Hilary
This is an accessible look at the observed and claimed differences between boys and girls, how meaningful those differences are, and in what proportions biology and society seem to be responsible. The chapter on the effects of prenatal hormones alone would have made the book worthwhile, but the author does an excellent job of pulling apart studies and showing how the results are exaggerated or erroneously assumed indicate innate differences. It was especially illuminating to see the way that par ...more
J.P. Drury
I really enjoyed Eliot's prose, especially as she walks the reader through the research with which she is most familiar (neuroplasticity). She discusses many important studies that examine how the environment plays a huge role in creating and exacerbating differences between the sexes. When we're in her area of expertise, there are nuanced insights into effect sizes of differences (which she spends a lot of time downplaying and explaining how overlap between the sexes really impedes any effort t ...more
Lisa
In this book, Lise Eliot explores what sex differences girls and boys are born with, and which are culturally driven. Based on analysis of hundreds of scientific studies, Eliot posits that neurologically, there are some differences - but they are small. These differences get magnified by culture. The brains of babies and young children have high plasticity; that is to say, the neurological pathways are easily formed. (This is why children so easily learn foreign languages, while it is much more ...more
Alexis
I really enjoyed this. The book is broken down by life stages. In each, she looks at what the evidence really shows for in-built sex differences: hormones, brain structure, genetics. Then she looks at how social forces play on these differences (typically, but not always, small) to turn them into the larger gaps we see in adults. The premise is that it's not as simple as nature or nurture; rather, we start with a small dose of nature and amplify them with a lot of nurture. Along the way, she tak ...more
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Lise Eliot is a mother of three, and the Associate Professor of Neuroscience at The Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University. She is the author of What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.
More about Lise Eliot...
What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life Early Intelligence: How The Brain And Mind Develop In The First Five Years Of Life

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