The Female Brain: Notes & Review

the female brain book

In The Female Brain (2006) author and researcher Louann Brizendine explains how the female brain works, and what’s so peculiar about it when compared to the male brain.

Bullet Summary

  • More than 99% of male and female genetic code is the same, but that 1% impacts everything and makes a big difference
  • Men are more about rank and open aggression, women more about building relationships and putting themselves at the center of that web of relationships
  • Women’s neurological reality changes much more than men both with age and menstrual cycle

Full Summary

About the Author: Louann Brizendine received her B.A. in neurobiology from Berkeley in 1976, attended Yale School of Medicine, and completed a residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is both a research and professor at the University of California.
She definitely has the academic credentials.
In 1994, Brizendine also founded the UCSF Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic, where she had to chance to gather much data on women and biology.

Introduction

Dr. Brizendine starts The Female Brain saying that at the time of her studies all subjects of research and studies were males.
When she inquired the professor about it, the answer was that “women are too fickle because of their menstrual cycle and would pollute the data”.
She set out to change that.

Differences Between Women and Men

  • Women have 11% more neurons in brain areas for language and hearing
  • Emotions and memory formation areas are bigger in women
  • Women are better at expressing emotions and remembering details of emotional events
  • Men remember as well only when the amygdala is activated (if fear and danger are present)
  • Women are better at reading emotions
  • Men have larger cores of the most primitive part of the brain: the amygdala which registers fears and triggers aggression
  • Men will go quicker from 0 to a fight while women tend to defuse conflict
  • Men are on average 20 times more aggressive than women (just look at prison’s population)
  • Women have better social skills and emotional intelligence than boys
  • Women have more up and downs than men
  • Men have more activity in visual processing areas (and that’s why they fall in love at first sight more than women)
  • Women are more sensitive to touch in the release of oxytocin, which causes bonding
  • Men need to be touched 2 to 3 times more to maintain the same level of oxytocin
  • Men and women feel anger in the same amount, but:
    • Men have bigger amygdala where anger is processed
    • Men have more testosterone to stimulate and heighten response to anger
    • Women have relatively bigger pre-frontal cortex to control that anger
    • Women override their anger response with fear of retaliation and conflict aversion to keep the relationship
  • However, when a woman acts on her anger, her faster verbal circuits unleash a barrage of words that a man can’t match (scientists speculate)
    • Men are not as good in verbal production and that might cause frustration and escalation of fights (which might lead to physical reaction)

It’s Not True Women Are Less Good At Math

The author mentions the (in)famous speech of Harvard’s president Lawrence Summer, who in 2005 said that the differences in performances between men in women in the sciences are biological.

Louann Brizendine instead says that women are under-represented in math and sciences not because they are less capable, but because their interests lie elsewhere.
Sciences are more solitary professions, and women are more drawn to professions that allow them to connect.

Women Are All About Social Harmony

The author says that women are programmed to keep social harmony.
And keeping social harmony is a matter of life and death for women even in the 21st century.

The author brings examples from children as well as adults, explaining that girls play as a means to connect, while men make the game the center stage (and in turn the game becomes a means for social rank, power, and defense of territory).

Men also have verbal production which is more about aggression and status. They brag, command, override others’ time to speak, etc. They do not avoid conflict and aggression and competition is part of their genetic makeup.

Women’s Way to Power

Don’t be fooled by the lack of aggression and conflict.
It doesn’t mean that female brains are not wired to use everything in their power to get what they want.

They simply use a different weapon and defend a different territory: relationships.

The female’s goal is to organize the world in a web of connections so that she is at the center of it (and that’s why the friend-zone is a real thing).
And she walks a fine line between making sure she’s at the center of her world of relationships without souring those same relationships.

The aggression in women is just different and, in many ways, more subtle.

Power matters to both sexes. We just approach it differently.

Women Are Obsessed With Males’ Attention

Women during puberty start shifting their focus and attention to becoming sexually desirable. And they become obsessed with being attractive to boys.

Girls Compete for Male Attention

The teenage years also bring about heightened competition among women, especially for male’s attention.

They use subtle tools such as spreading rumors to undermine a rival. That way they can cover their tracks and hide their real intention -ie.: “I wasn’t trying to be mean, I’m sorry”-.

The author mentions Mean Girls, and for those who think that’s just a movie, they probably should learn to observe better.
I remember some female classmates of mine during middle school. One liked me and somewhat chased me, but I just couldn’t respect her when I saw her games of shunning and exclusion towards another girl.

Self Esteem Is Based on Relationship

Women’s self-esteem is based on maintaining positive and intimate relationships with others. Men’s self-esteem, on the other hand, is based on being independent of everyone else.

One of the biggest stressors for women is losing their intimate relationships.

Women Better at Spotting Lies to Catch Men

The author mentions a speculative evolutionary biology theory postulating that women got better at emotional intelligence to catch men’s lie.

The argument goes that men who were good at telling lies had an advantage in reproducing, and women who were better at emotional intelligence and spotting those lies had an advantage by not falling for those lies.

Cheating & Genes’ Shopping

The author mentions a theory that is well known to people who have been reading on evolutionary psychology: cheating for genes’ shopping.

Brizendine says that women want to settle down with a nurturing man. But once the house is secure they have a “biological urge” to seek around men who have the best genes.

Also read:

My Note: Evidence somewhat lacking
however, the author cites “female birds” to back her claim. And well, birds are not really humans, are they?

We have already reviewed this theory on Sperm Wars. The conclusion is that “gene shopping” does indeed exist, but it’s far more limited in humans than some sensation-seeking publications suggest. 

Women who are in adulterous relationships orgasm less with their partner. And since orgasm can help insemination, women seem to unconsciously want to “help”.
That’s why, the author says, men seem to care so much about whether or not their woman reaches an orgasm: it can be a signal that she is being faithful.

My Note: Little evidence here
This theory provides no real evidence. If a woman is having an adulterous relationship it can easily be because she likes the other man more, right?

And liking him more could be the explanation of the orgasm instead of “helping” him fertilize her.

Criticism

As it might be expected for a book that says it’s all about biology, “The Female Brain” has received quite some criticism.

A Nature review tears it apart for being highly unscientific and moves three major criticism against its content:

  1. It overstates the differences
  2. It’s unscientific and of overall poor quality
  3. It focuses too much on hormones without considering the system that secrets and “reads” those hormones

The New York Times review doesn’t go as far as stating that “The Female Brain” is unscientific, but makes the point that the lacking bibliography simply doesn’t allow the reader to judge for themselves.

Brizendine acknowledged that maybe she went too far on innate differences in the sexes. She says that “Males and females are more alike than they’re different” because, she adds, ” “after all, we are the same species.”

And my personal point of view is that there are brain differences, which in turn are can also be encouraged -as it most often happens- or discouraged by culture.
The book might exaggerate a bit the differences and forgets to mention that we are talking about average, which means that the high variance present in the individuals can easily “buck the trend”.

I feel that was Brizendine’s biggest sin: not presupposing enough, and enough times, that she is talking of “on average“.
When you don’t say that, people get easily triggered.
Especially in this day and age, where people still prefer to hear that boys and girls are, after all, almost the same (she the “tabula rasa” bias)

the female brain book

Real-Life Applications

Love & Exclusivity Lead to Orgasm
The author says that exclusivity in a relationship can help women reach orgasm because it removes one important worry from their lives, and allows them to relax.

CONS

  • Not 100% Scientific

There are several studies and researches quoted, but also several anecdotes, evolutionary biology speculations, and her own experience in the clinic. That’s always a rather bad sign for me because personal experience, especially when not systematically tracked, is prone to all kinds of biases.

  • Bit Unstructured

I found that some information repeats, like for example women and social skills or women and their interest in developing and keeping positive relationships.
I would have preferred a structure more based on clearly defined topics instead of a more free-wheeling one.

PROS

Great Overview of Differences
The book provides the reader with an accessible format to understand some basic differences between men and women.

Review

There are several imperfections in “The Female Brain” -some of them outline above- and, overall, it’s not as scientific as we would expect from a woman of Brizendine’s academic background.

However, in spite of much criticism and some flaws, most major assertions are, on average, accurate to anyone who’s been reading and observing human nature.

Thus, this book can give readers a very good overview of the psychological differences between men and women.

Overall, I can recommend “The Female Brain”.

Check the best psychology books or get the book on Amazon

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