Social skills and oral language
One of the most significant differences between females and males and well documented is that females have superior social skills. Females show greater eye contact than males, demonstrate superior social understanding and sensitivity to emotional expressions and even show better understanding of social themes in stories.
The extent to which such superiority is the result of nature or nurture is not completely clear but there does appear to be a biological origin which is evident in infants.
In a ground-breaking study conducted in the United Kingdom, researchers found differences in how one day old girls and boys engaged with their surroundings.
Quite simply, and prior to any substantive environmental influences, one day old girls were more interested in looking at faces while their male counterparts focused on, and took greater pleasure in, the objects around them.
This difference was evident across many children with various cultural backgrounds and the researchers concluded that given the children were only a day old, such differences could not be explained by experience. In other words, these differences could only have resulted from innate biological differences. Such biological tendencies are supported by other neuro-scientific evidence and the experiences of those adults who are immersed in the day-to-day interactions of children.
Another prominent difference evident in young children is that girls generally develop the capacity to communicate earlier than boys.
On average, girls are about eighteen months ahead of boys in terms of oral language and vocabulary development and boys do not seem to catch up until six or seven years of age.
It is noteworthy that Finland, a country that regularly ranks one of the highest in terms of literacy and numeracy, does not enrol children in school until seven years of age.
There are a number of reasons for this approach but one of those is founded on a concerted effort to ensure that ‘sex’ differences, as they pertain to communication skills, do not disadvantage boys. Girls will talk more and with greater fluency early in life and such differences are also due to the fact that the rates of maturation of the brain’s hemispheres are different between girls and boys.
Multiple studies have shown that the female brain appears to be coded to grow more quickly across the hemispheres with regions of the left hemisphere developing faster in females than in males. The left hemisphere of the brain will also grow to be slightly larger than the right in females while the right side of the male brain will become larger than the left. The significance of this lies in what neuroscientists refer to as the ‘lateralisation’ of brain function or, simply stated, what task each of the hemispheres may be responsible for.
For example, it is now widely recognised that the left hemisphere is the primary region for comprehending and processing language, and in early infancy girls show left hemisphere dominance for speech perception. Moreover, as they mature, girls begin to use both hemispheres for most language activities. Early dominance in this area means that girls generally speak sooner and with greater proficiency than boys.
Aside from how language appears to be lateralised between the hemispheres there are also some structural differences that impact on the processing of language as well as other important functions.
One of these structures is a band of tissue that connects the right and left hemispheres and is known as the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum acts as a bridge between the thinking areas of each hemisphere and allows for the flow of information from one hemisphere to the other. Numerous studies have identified that the corpus callosum of females maintains greater neural density and is thicker and more bulbous than its male counterpart. In simple terms this means that females have a greater number of connections between the hemispheres and consequently greater efficiency and cross talk between each hemisphere.
The importance of relative size and neural density in the corpus callosum as it relates to particular behaviours and attributes generally depends on particular cognitive functions. In terms of fluency and articulateness in language, the degree of connectivity in relation to the number of neural connections between the hemispheres has been shown to be of great significance.
Moreover, studies beyond those focusing on the brain tell us that females, as compared to males, typically have higher verbal IQs, greater proficiency in a range of language related tasks and abilities as well as superior verbal fluency. In practical terms what all of this means is that girls talk more and with greater fluency than boys and this capacity is intimately linked to a girl’s emotional skill set.