Excerpt: 'The Female Brain'

These brief interactions show Leila picking up cues from her parents' faces that her cousin Joseph likely wouldn't have looked for. A University of Texas study of twelve-month-old girls and boys showed the difference in desire and ability to observe. In this case, the child and mother were brought into a room, left alone together, and instructed not to touch an object. The mother stood off to the side. Every move, glance, and utterance was videotaped. Very few of the girls touched the forbidden object, even though their mothers never explicitly told them not to. The girls looked back at their mothers' faces ten to twenty times more than did the boys, checking for signs of approval or disapproval. The boys, by contrast, moved around the room and rarely glanced at their mothers' faces. They frequently touched the forbidden object, even though their mothers shouted, "No!" The one-year-old boys, driven by their testosterone-formed male brains, are compelled to investigate their environment, even those elements of it they are forbidden to touch.

Because their brains did not undergo a testosterone marination in utero and their communication and emotion centers were left intact, girls also arrive in the world better at reading faces and hearing human vocal tones. Just as bats can hear sounds that even cats and dogs cannot, girls can hear a broader range of sound frequency and tones in the human voice than can boys. Even as an infant, all a girl needs to hear is a slight tightening in her mother's voice to know she should not be opening the drawer with the fancy wrapping paper in it. But you will have to restrain the boy physically to keep him from destroying next Christmas's packages. It's not that he's ignoring his mother. He physically cannot hear the same tone of warning.

A girl is also astute at reading from facial expression whether or not she's being listened to. At eighteen months, Leila could not be kept quiet. We couldn't understand anything she was trying to tell us, but she waddled up to each person in the office and unloosed a stream of words that seemed very important to her. She tested for agreement in each of us. If we appeared even the tiniest bit disinterested, or broke eye contact for a second, she put her hands on her hips, stomped her foot, and grunted in indignation. "Listen!" she yelled. No eye contact meant to her that we were not listening. Cara and her husband, Charles, were worried that Leila seemed to insist on being included in any conversation at home. She was so demanding that they thought they had spoiled her. But they hadn't. It was just their daughter's brain searching for a way to validate her sense of self.

Whether or not she is being listened to will tell a young girl if others take her seriously, which in turn goes to the growth of her sense of a successful self. Even though her language skills aren't developed, she understands more than she expresses, and she knows - before you do - if your mind has wandered for an instant. She can tell if the adult understands her. If the adult gets on the same wavelength, it actually creates her sense of self as being successful or important. If she doesn't connect, her sense is of an unsuccessful self. Charles in particular was surprised by how much focus it took to keep up the relationship with his daughter. But he saw that, when he listened attentively, she began to develop more confidence.

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