Boy Brain: How Males Process Information

The too-many-things-going-on way that males appear to process information


“Can you give these books back to your mom?” I said to my son’s friend, handing three novels out my car window.

“No, I can’t take them,” he said. “I’ll probably lose them.”

“Just bring them into your house,” I said.

“I’ll lose them before I get inside,” he said.

We were having this conversation at the curb just a few yards away from his front door. I took the books back and replaced them on the passenger seat of my car, because I suspected that he was probably right.

“Remember yesterday, B went to the bank to get a debit card?” my son said. I nodded, one of the few things I did remember about yesterday. “He lost it before he got home.”

“Come on!” I said. These boys are all prone to exaggeration.

“He really did. He left the bank with his parents and went straight home and by the time they got home it was nowhere to be found,” reported my son’s friend.

I wish I could pin this phenomenon on teenage boys, but the 11-year-old and two of his friends were scouring the house this weekend looking for his lost video camera. “It was right next to the computer,” one said. “Yes, it was. We all saw it there,” another concurred.

“One of you must have moved it,” I told them, “picked it up and accidently put it down somewhere when you went to get something.”

“We didn’t. No, no. No one touched it,” they insisted.

“You must have picked it up and you just don’t remember taking it with you somewhere,” I said. I offer up these pearls of wisdom, not to make them feel inadequate, but in an attempt to expand their thinking. To break the vicious little cycle they create for themselves of walking to the computer, then over to the front door, then back to the computer, then back to the front door, looking in the same two places over and over again like a small contingent of ants whose brains are the size of atoms (I’m guessing) and cannot conceive of any reality beyond what they’ve been programmed for.

The ants, however, reject my theory out of hand, in that inimitable way that only pre-teen ants can. “Well, I’m going to look for it other places,” I said. And, in under a minute, the camera was in my hand.

“It was on the kitchen counter,” I told them.

“Oh, you must have put it there when you got us Vitamin Waters,” one ant said to another.

“No,” said my son, the most stubborn ant of all.

We have a game we play in my house. It’s called, “Do you think it will take me more than 15 seconds to find your lost thing?” At least that’s what I call it, because finding other people’s lost things—especially boys’ lost things—is apparently my one and only superpower. I almost always win at the game, and part of the reason for that is because 90 percent of the time, the cell phone is wedged deep within the sofa cushions and I guess I’m the only one who remembers that fact from one lost cell phone to the next.

But the other reason is a little scarier, which is that after all this time I believe I have actually come to think like a boy. In that scattered, too-many-things-going-on, pinball machine way that boys appear to process information—which is to say from every direction and not at all both at the same time.

When I witness boy brain in action, I don’t even think “Oh, you poor, poor creatures,” anymore. Instead, I just put the books back on the passenger seat and say, “Yeah, I get it.”

profwilliams January 04, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Sounds to me like the kid has ADHD. DRUG HIM UP!!!! Boys can't be boys anymore. They must be more like girls: sitting quietly, calmly doing homework, waiting for others, raising their hands only when asked a question. All done with beautiful penmanship and without bouncing legs. And remember: avoid ALL VIDEO games!!! Especially ones that may have even a HINT of violence (though there has never been a connection between violent video games and behavior). Who cares?? Get them reading about Vampires. Better yet, bring on the Sex-Specific pregnancy tests so we can avoid all this bad, boy behavior all together.
Joe Green January 04, 2012 at 04:23 PM
prof, Is that your own little morning tirade or an attack on the article? If the former, might I suggest decaf, and if it's the latter, I think you missed the point entirely. Perhaps you missed the subtle nuances that would lead you to pick up on the fact that Ms. Wolf is not railing against her boys or his friends, but has really learned to embrace these moments and find the humor in them. I seem to have missed the part of the article where she writes about being angry with the boys, or the bit where she talks about how horrible video games are, or about how she really wishes that she'd had daughters, instead. Were those things in the version you saw online? Hmmm. The internets are tricky these days.
profwilliams January 04, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Ah, Joe...., Mine was far from an "ATTACK", but was written in SUPPORT of her point. That you couldn't see that, or simply read the first sentence and IMMEDIATELY got your fur up, is on you. Perhaps Ms. Wolf is a friend and you're simply defending her honor. Who knows? Best bet next time is to read the entire post and take a step back before your knee jerks, causing your fingers to type. Here I was thinking the "Sex-Specific pregnancy tests" was a dead giveaway. Oh, well.
Joe Green January 04, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I read the entire post before replying. Still didn't get the tone you were going for. No fur for me. It's not pc.
Jessica Wolf January 04, 2012 at 05:34 PM
It seems like you both "got" my intended point, and I'm grateful for that. I get a lot of flak sometimes with these columns, although mostly related to writing about driving etiquette. :-)
montclairdad January 04, 2012 at 05:37 PM
If you weren't getting flack, you wouldn't be a good columnist. :)
Ann Brown January 04, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Did I hear someone mention driving etiquette? Caught my attention.... Seriously, Jessica, great column. But it describes my 11-year-old daughter to a tee. In all fairness, though, she has been characterized as a boy in a girl's body many times before :)
steve jones January 04, 2012 at 08:30 PM
How come when I was in college my female friends would get in an uproar if anyone as much as suggested that there was a possibility that female brains are different than male brains. Outrage. Sexism. You're a terrible person. Just wondering. Maybe the answer is we all grew up and had kids.
Anne Devereaux January 05, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Great article. Anyone with both boys and girls can see the obvious difference in their brains and the way they retain information, learn, and process. Now if only the schools would see the difference and adjust appropriately!
Bridget January 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM
In college, in the early 80's, I wrote a big paper on the observed difference between boys and girls being due to social/cultural experiences. My thesis was supported by tons of research and I got an A-. Maybe that's just where we had to go as a society to begin to break free of the stereotyping that oppresses boys and girls.
Bridget January 05, 2012 at 06:23 PM
I'm bridget's thirteen year old son and I want to tell you that I think boys my age just don't see the lost Items. Yesterday I was looking for a flash drive and I knew it was in this one particular drawer. I looked in the drawer, I emptied out the draw, and I looked through every single item in the drawer. Five seconds later my seventeen year old brother found in that same drawer without even looking hard.
profwilliams January 05, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Hey kid the same thing happens to me and I'm 45!! Boys and girls are different. My first post addressed this as it relates to schools and how we are now tailoring it for girls, not boys (look at the emphasis on sitting quietly, working in groups, talking, etc. all things girls excel at before boys). Which is why I believe we see so girls doing so much better than boys in college graduation rates (and don't even look at that rate for Black kids-- IT. IS. STUNNING.) The idea of girls falling behind is about a decade old. The new emphasis is on what we can do for our boys. Here's a great map: http://chronicle.com/article/Adults-With-College-Degrees-in/125995/ And some text http://www.prb.org/Articles/2011/gender-gap-in-education.aspx


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