Social Conditioning, Or Are We Just Born That Way?

The Neuroscience Behind Primary Gender Traits

Rich Simon

It wasn’t so long ago—maybe 10-15 years—that the field of psychotherapy believed that the fundamental differences between men and women were primarily a result of social conditioning. But as neuroscience has become more and more prevalent in the study of mental health and development, it has also brought to light many misconceptions we have about gender differences.

While some gender-specific behaviors are learned as a child grows up, Louann Brizendine—author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain—says that we are all born with brains that are already hardwired with certain male or female characteristics.

Watch this brief clip from Louann’s session in our webcast series Why Neuroscience Matters to hear her talk about one of the key neurobiological distinctions between the sexes: the need to reproduce vs. the need to nurture the helpless.


This is just one example of how neuroscience ties into psychotherapy teachings that is covered in this series.

Want To Learn More About Brain Science And How It Relates To Your Practice?

Here’s a look at what’s covered in this 6-session series:

  • Dan Siegel on Interpersonal Neurobiology in the Consulting Room
    Enhance your effectiveness by applying neurobiological principles to your work with clients.

  • Rick Hanson on How to Take in the Good: Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias
    Apply the insights of Positive Psychology and help clients reshape their brains.

  • Louann Brizendine on The Myth of the Unisex Brain
    Increase your ability to attune to both male and female clients.

  • Michael Gelb on Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age
    Increase your sense of personal and clinical possibilities.

  • Norman Doidge on The Brain that Changes Itself: Neuroplasticity in Clinical Practice
    Explore new and challenging perspectives on the brain as a flexible muscle.

  • Stephen Porges on Understanding Polyvagal Theory: Emotion, Attachment, and Self-Regulation
    Enhance your ability to create safety and work with traumatized clients.


Why Neuroscience Matters
Concrete Strategies for Your Practice
Get course details here

Tags: brain science | brain power | conditioning | Dan Siegel | emotion | female brain | field of psychotherapy | interpersonal neurobiology | Louann Brizendine | male brain | mental health | negativity bias | neurobiological | neurobiology | neuroplasticity | neuroscience | Norman Doidge | polyvagal theory | social conditioning | unisex brain

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2 Comments

Monday, November 2, 2015 11:11:09 PM | posted by URL
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[...] Read More here: psychotherapynetworker.org/daily/posts/brain-science/social-conditioning-or-born-that-way/ [...]

Saturday, July 26, 2014 6:26:12 PM | posted by Roger Lake
I think that Louise Brizendine makes interesting points that are reflective of the shifting sense of self that confounds our sense of “normal” in ways that reflect a deep moral divide. I talked about this in the Masculinities Special Interest Group at AFTA this year, and have some related posts on the AFTA Blog. My perspective involves half a life of clinical practice, all of it in San Francisco where gender, sexuality, public health, and political conflict have been everyday aspects of life and work. I’ve also been mildly addicted to audiobooks and podcasts, which are perfect for my daily walks with my dog. Neuroscience in it’s many cross disciplinary manifestations, evolutionary biology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, cultural histories, gender studies and everyday stories all point me to the conclusion that there are indeed differences in individuals that are genetically endowed and describe familiar differences across populations of human beings that are not predictive of individual life courses. Well, duh. That is entirely obvious at the level of family therapy, and I think that the systemic view has helped family therapy to lead in the development of practices that move the conversation forward. AFTA’s 2011 conference in Baltimore that was organized by Ari Lev was a great example of that.

The deeper gendered issue that we must address is “power over other.” Patriarchy is embedded in the practices of most human groups, and certainly is what European Colonialism deposited wherever it sought resources as the New World opened to trade. In it’s simplest form, Patriarchy organizes a gender related set of individual entitlements to information and resources. It is the political context of gender as reflected in the global economy that impacts each of us in making everyday decisions. In particular, it is our vulnerability as individuals competing for resources that I have come to focus on. In my work with men, it involves conversations about the experience we all have of being seen as winners or losers, and how that evolves over time through the kinds of relationships that we form with others. It seems to me that this is done more deeply in group than in individual or couples therapy, and I think that there is evidence in developmental neuroscience that reflects why this might be the case.
The arc from boys into men is frequently seen as the set of cultural practices that impose winner or loser status. The brain differences around risk management and learning style that we are too inclined to see as individual problems requiring pharmacologic intervention, rather than as evidence of the embarrassing failure of empathy endemic in a winner take all world, is to my mind, a central issue requiring a much deeper understanding in our field.