Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Brizendine about what makes the female brain unique, as well as some of the fascinating changes that occur in the brain over the course of a woman’s life. Here are just a few of her recent findings:
Birth of the female brain
- Up until eight weeks, every brain is female. In males, a huge testosterone surge hits and kills cells off in the communication center, and grows more cells in the sex and aggression centers.
- In females, huge amounts of estrogen spur brain growth and enhance circuits and centers for observation, communication, gut feelings and caring.
The teen girl brain
- During puberty, a girl’s primary purpose (from a biological standpoint) is to become sexually desirable and attractive.
- Girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys do and they also talk faster. Connecting through talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl’s brain, Dr. Brizendine says
The mommy brain
- The brain shrinks during pregnancy—it does not lose cells but changes metabolism and restructures. Then in the final one to two weeks, the brain begins to increase in size again and construct maternal circuits. It does not return to its former size until about six months after giving birth. “We don’t know what it’s doing but we think it has something to do with redeveloping the mommy brain’s circuits, but also maybe even letting the fetus ‘snack’ on the mommy’s brain,” Dr. Brizendine says.
The mature female brain
- The “mommy brain” unplugs.
- Menopause means the end of the hormones that have boosted communication circuits, emotion circuits, the drive to tend and care, and the urge to avoid conflict at all costs.
- More than 65 percent of divorces after the age of 50 are initiated by women. Dr. Brizendine attributes this to something called “post-menopausal zest.” “They want their turn, they want to go and do stuff that they’re passionate about and step out in a more independent way—they don’t want to be taking care of everybody else,” she says.
Just as bats can hear sounds that even cats and dogs cannot, girls can hear a broader range of emotional 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.
Girls as young as eighteen months are more responsive to the distress of other people, especially those who look sad or hurt. At this stage, the hormone phase of what is called infantile puberty, a period that lasts only nine months for boys, but is twenty-four months long for girls. During this time, the ovaries begin producing huge amounts of estrogen—comparable to the level of an adult female—that marinates the little girl’s brain. Scientists believe these infantile estrogen surges are needed to prompt the development of the ovaries and brain for reproductive purposes. But this high quantity of estrogen also stimulates the brain circuits that are rapidly being built. It spurs the growth and development of neurons, further enhancing the female brain circuits and centers for observation, communication, gut feelings, even tending and caring. Estrogen is priming these innate female brain circuits so that this little girl can master her skills in social nuance and promote her fertility. That’s why she was able to be so emotionally adept while still in diapers.
The twenty-four-month estrogen bath of girls’ infantile puberty reinforces the impulse to make social bonds based on communication and compromise. Within a few minutes of two girl’s meeting in a playground they were suggesting games, working together, and creating a little community. They found a common ground that led to shared play and possible friendship.
It is the brain that sets up the speech differences—the genderlects— of small children, which Deborah Tannen has pointed out. She noted that in studies of the speech of two- to five-year-olds, girls usually make collaborative proposals by starting their sentences with “let’s”—as in “Let’s play house.” Girls, in fact, typically use language to get consensus, influencing others without telling them directly what to do.
Girls participate jointly in decision making, with minimal stress, conflict, or displays of status. They often express agreement with a partner’s suggestions. And when they have ideas of their own, they’ll put them in the form of questions, such as “I’ll be the teacher, okay?” Their genes and hormones have created a reality in their brains that tells them social connection is at the core of their being.
Boys know how to employ this speech style, too, but research shows they typically don’t use it. Instead, they’ll generally use language to command others, get things done, brag, threaten, ignore a partner’s suggestion, and override each other’s attempts to speak. Boys will do this to one another—they are not concerned about the risk of conflict. Competition is part of their makeup. And they routinely ignore comments or commands given by girls.
Little girls don’t usually exhibit aggression via rough-and-tumble play, wrestling, and punching the way little boys do. Girls may have, on average, better social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence than boys—but don’t be fooled. This doesn’t mean that girls’ brains aren’t wired to use everything in their power to get what they want, and they can turn into little tyrants to accomplish their goals. What are those goals as dictated by the little girl’s brain? To forge connection, to create community, and to organize and orchestrate a girl’s world so that she’s at the center of it. This is where the female brain’s aggression plays out—it protects what’s important to it, which is always, inevitably, relationship. But aggression can push others away, and that would undermine the goal of the female brain. So a girl walks a fine line between making sure she’s at the center of her world of relationships and risking pushing those relationships away.
Read more: http://www.oprah.com/health/Excerpt-from-The-Female-Brain-by-Dr-Louann-Brizendine/12#ixzz2A4GNORNo
To learn more about the difference between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain, watch this informative, but entertaining video by Mark Gungor.
Fay B. Castro
Rocklin, CA (916) 709-4935