The Myth of Brain Sex with Dr. Lise Eliot and Aaron Freeman

In the past decade, we’ve heard a lot about the innate differences between males and females. So we’ve come to accept that boys can’t focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships: “That’s just the way they’re built.”

Dr. Lise Eliot argues that infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents, teachers, peers—and the culture at large—unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves exacerbate the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those “ball-throwing” or “doll-cuddling” circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones. But this, says Dr. Eliot, is just what they need to do. And she offers parents and teachers concrete ways to help. Presenting the latest science from conception to puberty, she zeroes in on the precise differences between boys and girls, reining in harmful stereotypes. Boys are not, in fact, “better at math” but at certain kinds of spatial reasoning. Girls are not naturally more empathetic than boys; just allowed to express their feelings more.

Of course, genes and hormones play a role in creating boy-girl differences, but they are only the beginning. Social factors, such as how we speak to our sons and daughters and whether we encourage their physical adventurousness, are proving to be far more powerful than we previously realized. As a parent, Dr. Eliot understands the difficulty of bucking gender expectations, but also the value of doing so.

This program will feature a short lecture by Dr. Eliot on the causes of male and female brain differences, followed by a casual conversation between her and Aaron Freeman, science journalist and comedian. Audience questions will be taken after the conversation between Freeman and Eliot.

Lise Eliot, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University and author of the books What’s Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps. She received her B.A. in the History of Science at Harvard University and Ph.D. in Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University. Between her graduate work in Eric Kandel’s lab at Columbia and post-doctoral research at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Eliot spent ten years studying neuroplasticity at the cellular and molecular level. In addition to teaching and writing, Dr. Eliot lectures widely on children’s brain and gender development.

Aaron Freeman is a science enthusiast and comedian. He spent three years as a performer on the main stage of Chicago’s Second City Improv Theater, where his fellow cast members included Bonnie Hunt and Mike Meyers. His comedy routine “Council Wars” is one of the most celebrated in Chicago history and has become part of the city’s political vocabulary. For ten years, Aaron hosted the television talk show cleverly titled, Talking with Aaron Freeman, on WPWR-TV. For six years he was co-host and chief science correspondent for Chicago Public Radio’s, Metropolis, and host of WTTW’s science and technology program, Chicago Tomorrow. He is currently Artist In Residence for the Chicago Council for Science and Technology.