Gender Differences in Adolescent Development

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  • 0:02 Adolescence
  • 1:14 Emotions
  • 2:44 Brain
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Adolescence is a time of growth and change. Some of these changes are different in boys and girls, though. In this lesson, we'll examine gender differences in emotional and brain development during adolescence.


Annie and her brother Jim are both 16. They are going through many changes in their lives: Annie's body is getting softer, while Jim's is getting more angular. Annie is beginning to experiment with fashion that her parents don't approve of, while Jim is trying out motorcycle driving to rebel.

Annie and Jim are in adolescence, or the time between childhood and adulthood, which usually lasts from about age 13 to about age 20. During this time, people go through many changes, including physical, social, emotional, and intellectual.

Clearly, the physical changes that Annie and her brother Jim are going through are part of the physical changes of adolescence. As part of those changes, boys and girls develop in different directions during adolescence. Like Annie, most girls become softer and curvier, while, like Jim, most boys become more muscular and angular.

But the physical changes that adolescents go through aren't the only differences between boys and girls. Let's examine some of the emotional and brain developments that are different in boys and girls during adolescence.


Besides changing physically and experimenting with fashion rebellion, Annie is also experiencing some other changes. Lately, she's felt really down. She's lost interest in doing the things that she used to really love, like playing the clarinet and hanging out with her friends. She sleeps more than normal. All in all, Annie is depressed.

Annie isn't alone. Many people develop depression during adolescence, but they do so at different rates. Before adolescence, depression is seen in about equal numbers in boys and girls. But during adolescence, many more girls develop depression than boys. Some studies estimate that twice as many adolescent girls as boys are depressed!

The differences in depression during adolescence leak into adulthood, too. As adults, women are more likely to be depressed than men. So, the fact that Annie is struggling with depression and Jim isn't is not only part of the gender differences in emotional development, it also might be indicative of what they can expect in adulthood.

What causes the differences in depression that emerge during adolescence? There are many things that might cause depression more in girls than in boys. One possible reason girls are more depressed in adolescence has to do with self-esteem. Specifically, adolescence marks a decrease in self-esteem of girls. Boys, too, might experience a decrease in self-esteem, but generally, it happens less in boys than girls.


Annie and Jim are developing differently physically and emotionally, which includes a difference in the way that their brains are developing. There are two substances that make up the human brain. Grey matter is the information processing part of the brain; it involves receiving messages from the world and understanding what's going on around you. On the other hand, white matter is the communication part of the brain; it connects different parts of the brain so that they can work in tandem.

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