The difference between girls and boys – is it nature or nurture?

It’s a question that gets asked time and time again – are boys and girls just different, or do we raise them differently? Is it nature, or nurture? Only having girls, it’s a hard question for me to answer, so I enjoy spending time with friends who have sons, so I can compare notes…

Last week we went with my friend Vicky and her son Ashley to Dunster Castle. Living in Somerset, we really are spoilt for scenery and Places of Interest. Great if you’re retired or are keen on historic buildings, not so keen if you’re fifteen and like screamo.

Drive less than an hour in any direction and you can be in the city, on the beach, on top of a hill or, in this case, in a castle.

“I like snow-covered mountains,” says Bee, watching me type over my shoulder. “We don’t have any of those do we?”

Well no. We don’t.


Visiting the Dunster Castle with two primary aged kids, one male and one female, highlighted beautifully the innate differences between girls and boys. I consider Belle to be a particularly energetic and strong-willed girl, and Ashley is a very sweet and sensitive boy, but even so, the differences were obvious.

Take our tour of the house for instance. We were given a kids quiz to do as we walked around, but Ashley just wasn’t interested. “Look for a large gong to the left of the fireplace,” read out Belle as we entered the large hall, “what do you think it was used for?”

“Cool! A staircase!” cried Ashley, weaving his way precariously between the legs of several groups of elderly women, oblivious to the gong or the fireplace.

It made me think about the post I wrote recently on men being cheaters. Watching Ashley and Belle exploring the castle in their very different ways, I wondered if it is simply the case that men and boys are ‘do-ers’ – acting first, thinking later? Can we excuse men their behaviour purely on the grounds of genetics, or should they over time learn to control the urge to run towards the most interesting looking staircase/woman in the room, regardless of who they might hurt on the way?

Is it nature, or nurture?…



  1. maryfclark
    14 August, 2010 / 8:35 pm

    For my sons, it is action first, whoops! and questions??? later. Stairs and trees and hills are meant to be climbed. This simple ‘see it want it do it eat it’ philosophy is fine, to a point, but when it comes to WOMEN, I hope that they have learned a bit from me. Women are NOT hankies, not servants, not things to be possessed. I *hope* some of what I talk to them about sticks. I try not to preach, but it is damn hard sometimes.

  2. 14 August, 2010 / 9:14 pm

    Definitely nature. My two boys are very similar, they definitely do something first and think later. The climbing (and accidents) is endless. My daughter may only be 7 months old but she’s a completely different baby to how they were. My boys were only interested in trying to get about at her age whereas she’s much more interactive and less physical. I’m sure once she can talk she’ll be having a chat with me while the boys are climbing everything in sight. I don’t think you can excuse male behaviour once they’re men though, as hopefully nurture should have moderated how they act by then.

  3. 14 August, 2010 / 9:45 pm

    My little man is just like this action first thoughts later and so is my other half and his brother. They still see trees and climb them. But I wouldn’t say Mr L is like that about relationships, I hope not anyway he does think about how I feel about things and I don’t think that can be used as an excuse when they are men.

  4. 14 August, 2010 / 10:09 pm

    Nature or nurture? A bit of both. I suspect there is a genetic link but much behaviour comes from who our children mix with and the complexities of their lives.

  5. 14 August, 2010 / 10:17 pm

    I have one of each. The boy wants boy toys, the girl wants girl toys. I didn’t go out of my way to buy the girl dolls (and admittedly she is not big on dolls) and the boy cars etc. But the girl is definitely more of a talker and a thinker, whereas her brother is more of a doer. Both were late walkers (the girl was later than the boy but only by a few months) but the girl is much less physically confident even compared to her brother at the same age.

    I think that men were born to be doers as they had to hunt and needed quick reactions, whereas women had a more nurturing role which required more multitasking but slower thought processes.

  6. 15 August, 2010 / 5:50 am

    I’m a more practical girl, like boys I guess, My girl is like yours, my son is only two & wiuld rip the gong off the wall & throw it. I think it’s just nature!

  7. 15 August, 2010 / 6:48 am

    I do think there are some innate differences, but that nurture has far more to do with it than most people think. Studies have shown that we treat boys and girls very differently from day one. Children are constantly bombarded with messages about what it means to be masculine or feminine from all sorts of different sources. Some of the earliest lessons we absorb are in how to behave in ways that are expected of us.

    I don’t think it’s any more natural for men to be cheaters than women. However I do sometimes wonder whether a lifetime of monogamy with the same person is a particularly natural state for humans at all. As a species we seem more inclined towards serial monogamy.

  8. 15 August, 2010 / 7:49 am

    Having two boys, I recognize the attitude you described very well. We’ ve noticed the same difference between boys and girls from a very young age. My friends daughter who is just a month older has always been into books, reading and talking before E, he was more into climbing, walking and active things way before her. Hard to say whether it is nature or nurture but the difference is definitely obvious :)

  9. 15 August, 2010 / 9:07 am

    Oh dear not this old old question …. The answer of course is “neither, and both”.

    • 16 August, 2010 / 5:29 pm

      Very helpful.

      Did Gillian Anderson tell you that? Or was it your wife, who you hate?

      • 17 August, 2010 / 11:51 am

        Well it wasn’t you was it ? And I don’t “hate” my wife you ignoramus.

    • 17 August, 2010 / 8:58 pm

      Hahahahahaha etc

  10. 15 August, 2010 / 5:03 pm

    And you got all that from an old house?!
    But seriously i’ve written on this subject:
    and i’ve no doubt you saw the documentary last week. There are clearly differences through genetics. There are clearly differences that are cynically manipulated by our culture. And it’s impossible to draw the line, to know the chicken from the egg.
    But they are very different. And i’m happy with my boys.


    • 19 August, 2010 / 1:08 pm

      I am a very thoughtful person you know – even the simplest things can have me questionning the meaning of life. Honest. I didn’t see the documentary actually, but I can totally believe that it has a lot to do with how we are MADE to feel. It’s like the whole pink/blue thing isn’t it – until relatively recently pink was for boys, blue for girls, but somehow in the last 100 years we have managed to produce millions of girls ‘naturally’ drawn to pink?? I don’t buy it.

      • 20 August, 2010 / 7:42 am

        Perhaps all this “thinking” isn’t helping Jo :) be careful you don’t start developing existential angst.

        Seeing as I have a psychology background I am going to stick my oar in here. Psychology (very broadly) falls into two main “camps”.

        Firstly, cognitive and neurological psychology which essentially believes that mental processes can be analysed, measured quantified and the like. This leads to the idea that actions, processes and the like can be identified and also suggests that certain behaviours can be reproduced etc. Obviously these psychologists would like the idea that nature is part of children’s upbringing etc, because it then becomes “quantifiable”.

        Secondly, social, systemic and postmodern psychology which sees people’s actions and behaviour as part of a greater “whole”, ergo “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” whereas the cognitives are often criticised of minimalism of processes to the part where an accurate “assessment” can be made but because it is measured away from other aspects and out of context it is arguably irrelevant. Not surprisingly the social psychologists prefer the nurture idea.

        Obviously not all psychologists definitely into school of thought or the other and tend to a mix. What I can tell you is you go purely one way or the other on a “nature vs nurture” essay you will get a low mark :) AND yes it crops up at all university psychology courses.

  11. 16 August, 2010 / 7:04 am

    I’ve got a boy and a girl and they both seem similar. Darling Son will lob himself up or off anything and use a scooter where it shouldn’t and Darling Daughter? She is probably more fearless and is definitely a act now, ask questions later kinda gal.

    On the whole, girls seem more contented and will create their own mission if needs be; whereas boys need to be given a mission and they will attack it with gusto.

    • 19 August, 2010 / 1:09 pm

      Hmm.. that’s interesting actually, as I would say that men I know seem generally more content than the women, and the thing women do of creating little missions for themselves comes rather from NOT being content, and wanting something to fill the gap.

  12. 27 August, 2010 / 1:30 am

    At college, I read a lot of feminist theory about gender being a construct. Then I gave birth to a boy and realised that some differences are innate. Which doesn’t, of course, mean that all girls are girlie and all girls boy-y, but, in general, the sexes are distinct. My son had a doll from when he was a baby, no guns or violent toys until he started asking for them (pretty quickly, ahem), and I’d put him on the sweet and sensitive side. But he’d have been on the staircase (or, more likely, coat of armour) side of the equation too.

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