"Nature and nurture are not mutually exclusive processes. Many psychological tests given to girls and boys don't show gender differences. Instead they reveal personality or temperament differences. So my first rule is we are more human than we are gendered. The second is that on any given trait two girls are more likely to be different from one another than girls collectively are different from boys. Third, there do tend to be some distinct differences in large percentages of girls' and boys' brains that produce strikingly different behaviors. Looking at these differences can help us understand our children."
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Author, It's a Boy!
What makes a girl a girl? Is it nature -- the way her brain is wired -- or nurture -- the way she is raised by her family and influenced by society? Could it be both of these factors? And how can this information help parents understand and raise their girls? PBS Parents turned to its panel of experts on girls to debate these questions.
JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., an expert on brain research and author of Girls Will Be Girls, says that today's brain researchers see a combination of forces. "The controversy between nature and nurture in the research community really focuses on which has the most significant influence. Some land on one side or the other, and some say 'It depends.' "
Deak notes that recent research reveals some interesting physical differences between male and female brains. "When we look at the most current brain and gender research," comments Deak, "we see clear differences in girl and boy brains: the size and composition of the neurons, how they are wired, even the array of chemicals in their brains." Some researchers believe these differences may affect how girls learn, how they relate socially, how they experience emotion, and how they approach physical risk-taking.
According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., co-author of Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health and Leadership, parents and the media may have a greater effect in shaping a girl's behavior than gender-specific brain differences. "I think the brain research is fascinating and important, but the way we raise our children and the messages we give them about what it means to be a girl are far more powerful than anything genetic."
Next: The Effects of Nature