ing and during adolescence there is a net decrease. Growth reaches a peak in the frontal part of the brain at 11 in girls and 14 years in boys. Pruning then begins: the cells and connections that are used survive and flourish, and those that are not wither and die.

There is a lot of regional variation in the process. Maturation starts in the parts of the brain needed to keep us alive, such as those controlling heart rate and breathing. The next parts of the brain to mature are those involved in processing the five senses, followed by the parts of the brain that link together the primary senses. Then there is a cascade of hierarchies linking the linkings. The final stop is the frontal lobe, which doesn’t reach adult levels until about age 25.

By adulthood, once you correct for the total brain-size differences, the sex differences are quite subtle. But if you look at the path the brains took to get there, the differences are far more robust. It’s the journey, not the destination.

—Jay Giedd

The most variable parts of the brain seem to be those that mature last, and are the least heritable. The structure that we have examined thus far that is the most different between males and females is the cerebellum. Because it is one of the last brain areas to mature, the cerebellum is under the influence of the environment for a long period. Accounting for overall brain size increase, the cerebellum is larger and it reaches adult volume later in males than in females. Overall, male brains have a greater variation in cortical thickness; this is a very robust phenomenon that occurs throughout the brain.

Giedd summarized with two points: First, male and female adolescent brains are much more alike than different; there is enormous overlap. Second, with regard to developmental trajectories, there are more marked sex differences. Male brain structure appears more variable. Whether the variability is biological or social in origin, the data are robust. Work is underway on the effects of sex chromosomes and hormones. In ending, Giedd emphasized that differences are group average differences, and are not to be implied as constraints for individual boys or girls.


Bruce McEwen

The Rockefeller University

Bruce McEwen presented data on sex-based differences in the effects of stress, which have implications for learning. He and his colleagues study brain regions that are involved in memory, emotions, and executive function or deci-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement