New Research Reveals Boys Are More Sensitive Than Girls

New research reveals the reason why boys tend to be rather attached to their mothers: Mom helps them regulate the impressions and emotions they can’t yet understand or express. In another blow to the genderless brigade, Dr. Allan N. Schore concluded the following facts from a boatload of research:

  • Boys mature slower physically, socially, and linguistically.
  • Stress-regulating brain circuitries mature slower in boys prenatally, perinatally, and postnatally.
  • Boys are affected more negatively by early environmental stress, inside and outside the womb, than are girls. Girls have more built-in mechanisms that foster resiliency against stress.

In average parent-speak, this translates into the fact that while boys can sense stress, they don’t have the neurological tools to effectively recognize, let alone communicate what they are feeling or picking up on from others. Not only do girls harness language quicker than boys, they’re also hardwired to process stress differently than boys.

Writing on Schore’s study for Psychology Today, Dr. Darcia Narvaez explains how these developmental differences can impact boys if not properly addressed:

Boys are more vulnerable to neuropsychiatric disorders that appear developmentally (girls more vulnerable to disorders that appear later). These include autism, early onset schizophrenia, ADHD, and conduct disorders. These have been increasing in recent decades (interestingly, as more babies have been put into daycare settings, nearly all of which provide inadequate care for babies; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Early Child Care Research Network, 2003).

She goes on to quote Schore, who explains that a mother’s attention and affection provide a physical response that helps to regulate a boy’s stress levels. Healthy attachment between mother and son create a healthy foundation for stress processing later in life. The study provides intriguing material for scientists studying epigenetics; how environment, including interpersonal relationships, impacts gene expression.

Narvaez ends her summary of Schore’s research with recommendations for parents of boys. Among her recommendations is advice to avoid “toughening up” young boys by encouraging them to cry-it-out as infants and instructing them not to cry as they get older. Her focus is on developing “responsive parenting,” “the use of warm and accepting behaviors to respond to your child’s cues.”

This seems like a choice that’s tough for many parents to follow through with, especially when it comes to sleep training. After all, some babies just don’t learn how to sleep on their own without crying it out. In another study on responsive parenting, scientists were quick to note that responsive parenting was most effective when paired with an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parents are responsive while still demanding respect from their children. In other words, they know their child well enough to know when they’re crying out of need versus crying out of want.

Schore’s research is invaluable, not only for the fact that science once again highlights the impact of biology on gender norms, but because it supports the belief that correctly formed relationships between mother and son lead to the development of healthy, well-adjusted men. In other words, when it comes to mommy and baby boy, everything doesn’t have to be Oedipal.