Neuro Book Review #2 by Jane Doherty

Posted on Apr 14, 2017

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the Synapse Project Book Review Series! Today, we’re joined with Jane Doherty, writing elegantly about Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain. Jane is also a passionate speaker at the GSTEM conference and is very enthusiastic about the empowerment of curious minds and female engagement in neuroscience fields. If you are interested in contributing to this book review series, contact Megumi Sano at megumi.sano@the-synapse-project.org.

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Finally, a book that exposes the superior nature of females and their brains! Just joking, if you are looking for that sort of book, you will not find it in Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain. However, if you are at all interested in how the female brain is shaped by hormones, our ancestors, our choices, and upbringing – this is most certainly a book for you. It is a phenomenal and important read, for girls and guys alike, for it articulately illustrates the unique happenings inside your mother’s, daughter’s, friend’s, coworker’s, and sister’s brains.

Even though this book is loaded with research from neuroscientists and psychologists (totaling 80 pages of references), Dr. Brizendine artfully relays this complex information in an understandable way. More than writing a neuroscience report filled with scientific jargon, she is telling a story. This story follows baby girls and explains how their environment, hormones and relationships affect the development of their brains. It highlights young school girls and their experiences with play and exploration, and continues like this all the way until the reader can understand how hormones affect 60 year-old women and their behaviors. Brizendine will give you insight to the female brain at every age and stage through examples and experiences relatable to readers. Her relatable and modern writing goes as far to describe the hormone oxytocin as a “fluffy, purring kitty,” and testosterone as having “no time for cuddling”. Through fun analogies like these and actual stories of women she has treated, Brizendine exposes how “the female brain is so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality.”

What’s unique about this book is that it wastes no time explaining what female behaviors are (like how girls tell secrets, that teenagers feel the need to rebel, how women are good lie detectors, or how women cry more than men…) but rather thoughtfully answers WHY women do what they do. When Brizendine analyzes behavior, she looks at it from many angles: hormones; society; education; relationships; upbringing; chemicals in your brain; evolution; and genetics.

For example, when she describes WHY women tend to cry more often than men, she brings up the mirror neuron system, estrogen, and evolutionary advantages. She states it is necessary for women to cry more than men, because in order for men to understand that a woman is sad, they have to see physical signs of sadness before picking up the emotion. On the other hand, women have a more acute sense of emotional empathy because they have a better working mirror neuron system (thanks to our lovely hormone estrogen!). The mirror neuron system allows one to maneuver “like an F-15,” and with it, “her brain is a high performance emotion machine – geared to tracking, movement by movement, the non- verbal signals of the innermost feelings of others”. Men have less estrogen and consequently a less well- oiled mirror neuron system. Brizendine explains that this causes men to be less emotionally astute, needing big physical queues to read someone’s emotion rather than subtle ones. Brizendine writes that this is “WHY women evolved to cry four times for easily than men – displaying an unmistakeable sign of sadness and suffering that men can’t miss”.

This book is extraordinary. Please take the time to read its 187 pages because it allows you to see behaviors in a new light and with new insight. Most importantly, it sparks curiosity and makes you question and ask and question and question – which is the most important thing anyone can ever do.

— Jane Doherty

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