Dr. Gregory Jantz

Boys Relate to the World Through Motion

April 30, 2019

One study says that male brains are designed to connect perception and coordinated action, while female brains are designed to communicate between analytical and intuitive mental processing. [1] In other words, boys relate to the world through motion.

“On average, boys do show higher activity levels than girls from infancy onward. They are more likely to engage in outdoor play, rough play, and activities that cover large areas of physical space.”[2] Boys build forts and run nonstop, gobbling up play space. They jump and flail their arms. They experience their world by moving through it.

Boys tend to have greater spatial skills. They are better at mentally manipulating objects in space (a skill called mental rotation). Boys also tend to have an advantage with embedded figures recognition, which gauges a person’s ability to find geometric shapes in larger designs. When boys get older, this spatial acuity means they can exhibit greater navigation skills, like map reading.[3] Is it any wonder that boys spend so much time in motion, rotating themselves through physical space? Space is the air they breathe—the way they are wired to interpret the world.

This tendency toward energy and spatial skills may be what gives boys a sense of adventure. “Boys are more likely to handle a new object physically; girls are more likely to use visual exploration, looking carefully at a novel object without actually touching it. Interestingly, male and female infants show different reactions when left alone to explore. Boys are more likely to explore objects and become more independent.”[4]

Busy boys move through space as they discover and conquer their worlds. This motion and movement, especially in a confined space or at an inappropriate time, can seem disruptive or even disrespectful. But the boy is simply acting out of his nature.

So how can you adjust for this constant movement? You can encourage physical exploration.

Whenever possible, get a boy outside and involved in hands-on exploration. In addition to giving him a book about bugs, take him outside and have him look for and handle bugs. Teach him about circumference or diameter by letting him measure objects. Male brains are designed to connect perception with action, so he may understand the concepts better when he is experiencing them physically.

You can also create time for a boy to move. Every boy needs to learn self-control and when it is appropriate to engage in physical movement. Just as you wouldn’t expect a puppy to develop well if always kept in a cage, a boy may not develop well if constantly contained and confined. There are times to sit quietly, but there are also times to run and play and jump and yell. He will have an easier time doing the former if you give him time to do the latter.

Let a boy wear himself out. He’s got energy, so let him use it. If you attempt to keep that energy bottled up, contained, and directed toward nonactive play, that energy is going to come out somewhere.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.

[1] Madhura Ingalhalikar et al., “Sex Differences in the Structural Connectome of the Human Brain,” PNAS (December 2, 2013): 823–828, doi: 10.1073/ pnas.1316909110.

[2] Joan Littlefield Cook and Greg Cook, “Similarities and Differences Between Boys and Girls.” Child Development Principles and Perspectives (Boston: Pearson, 2009).

[3] Simon Baron-Cohen, Rebecca C. Knickermeyer, and Matthew K. Belmonte, “Sex Differences in the Brain: Implications for Explaining Autism,” Science (November 4, 2005): 819–823, doi: 10.1126/science.1115455.

[4] Cook and Cook, “Similarities and Differences Between Boys and Girls.”