FAQ on The Brain and Child Development

Brain-function specialist Arlene R. Taylor, PhD, began her career in nursing, serving for several years as a school nurse for grades K-12 in elementary, middle, and high schools. This not only enhanced her interest in brain-function research but also taught her a great deal through these hands-on experience. She worked with a number of Montessori schools and teachers, helping them become more aware of sensory preference and of the importance of providing multi-sensory experiences for their students.

There are two ways to ask Dr. Taylor a question:

  1. Go to her website arlenetaylor.org  and click on Contact Dr. Taylor. Type in your question.
  1. Send your question by email to

Typically, questions are answered at this FAQ site, with names and identifying information removed.



Arlene R. Taylor PhD

Q. Neither of my two boys seem able to find things easily in the refrigerator. Both my girls can! Is this a gender difference?

A. According to authors Barbara and Allan Pease in their book Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, males have a long range tunnel vision style as compared with females who have a short range but wider peripheral vision. In everyday living this could impact the ease with which males and females locate items in refrigerators, cupboards, and drawers (where a wider peripheral style of vision may offer an advantage). Some have explained that this difference may be related to the fact that males used to be the “hunters” and females the “gatherers.” I wasn’t there back then so I can’t comment on that! I do know that my three step-sons typically asked me to “find” items in the refrigerator for them. My guess is that the distance between eyes and refrigerator shelving is a better match with female peripheral vision than with male tunnel vision. This also may mean that males are able to “see” signage on highways more easily than females or at least from a further distance. Does understanding this make the differences go away? Certainly not! But I laugh about it now and waste no energy in becoming irritated or upset. It also provides an opportunity to set up the environment in a way that works more efficiently for both males and females.

Q. Our twins, boys and a girl, seem to have a different level of health. When they catch a cold, my son acts a lot sicker than my daughter. Matter of fact, so does my husband. I tell them to stop using a cold or the flu to get attention!

A. For decades—maybe longer—males have been accused of pretending to be sicker than they really are when they catch a cold or the flu; “to get attention” or “to get waited on.” I’m not saying males have never been guilty of such sneaky tactics, but studies have shown that males really do suffer more when they become infected with viruses. There are at least a couple of contributors to this difference.

1. Amanda Ellison, a British neuroscientist, discovered that the preoptic nucleus (an area in the brain that has to do with sensing temperature) is larger in the brains of males than in females. As the body’s temperature rises, males feel the symptoms of a fever more intensely because this part of their brain has more temperature receptors.

2. Male muscles are less well equipped to deal with changes in hormonal levels and water retention as compared with a comparable female. In addition, about 40 percent of the male body is muscle tissue, much more than the average female higher fat-to-muscle ratio. Consequently, a male will tend to experience far more muscle aches and pains with a cold or flu.

Knowing these two gender differences may help you be more empathetic when a male in your family gets sick. They really do suffer more than you do with a comparable illness.

Q. The doctor told us that our three children are above the recommended weight range for children their age and size and suggested we help them lose weight. That was three weeks ago. Our two boys have already lost a pound each; our daughter, barely three ounces. I asked her if she was sneaking food and she got upset and told me, “Of course I’m not sneaking food!” So how come she hasn’t lost a pound like her brothers have?

A. You may want to apologize to your daughter for assuming she is not following the program. Males have a larger percentage of muscle tissue than a comparable female. About 40 percent of a male body’s tissue is muscle, and muscle tissue burns more calories; at least 5 more calories per pound than fat tissue—even at rest! This means that males generally find it much easier to lose weight or maintain an optimum weight. With a greater fat to muscle ratio, female can find it a challenge to lose weight. Prevention (avoid gaining extra weight in the first place) is easier than cure for many people, certainly for the average female, who simply cannot eat the same number of calories as a male and maintain optimum weight. There are some strategies you daughter can use to help in the process, however:

• Get plenty of sleep. Females who are sleep-deprived tend to eat and snack more, especially foods such as ice cream.

• Make water your beverage of choice. Drinking sodas and sugary drinks can contribute to obesity in anyone, but especially in females who find it harder to lose. Also, stop drinking any “diet drinks.” Studies have shown that people who eat diet drinks tend to eat several hundred more calories at the next meal than they otherwise would. Drink a glass of water 15-30 minutes before you eat (because it’s difficult to distinguish between thirst and hungry and many people eat when they are actually thirsty).

• Eat a good breakfast with protein and complex carbohydrates and most of the rest of your calories for the day at lunch. Make dinner the lightest meal with salads and soups and steamed or raw veggies.

• Eat slowly. Chew your food well. Put down your utensil between bites. Give your brain 15-20 minutes to register that you have had enough food. It’s easy to take in 3,000 calories in 5-10 minutes when you wolf down your food. Make mealtime a relaxing, fun, happy time.

Q. Three of our four children are readers. The fourth child prefers to listen to contemporary music. Strangely enough, this fourth child is the least happy of all the children and I don’t understand this.

A. Based on the results of a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, teenagers who spend more time reading books (than listening to contemporary music) seem to experience less depression than those who spend their time listening to contemporary music rather than reading. (I don’t know what that says about contemporary music—although some of the lyrics I’ve heard lately are pretty sad.) Researchers found that the teenagers who spent the most time listening to music were 8.3 times more likely to have a major depressive disorder than those who spent the least amount of time listening to contemporary music. This is a case of which came first: the chicken or the egg? Is the item under discussion causative or just correlative? It may be that a teenager who already feels depressed may zone out listening to contemporary music as compared with a teenager who is not feeling depressed and enjoys reading, hard copy or electronic. Nevertheless, it might be a wise choice to take your child to his or her physician for an evaluation.