Evolutionary explanations of gender roles

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  • Created by: Kelsie
  • Created on: 27-05-14 12:10
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  • Evolutionary explanations of gender roles
    • The evolutionary perspective
      • Division of labour
        • Man = hunter. Woman = gatherer, domestic goddess
        • Role division may have evolved because women spent adult life pregnant, producing milk or both
        • If a women went out hunting, the groups reproductive success would fall
          • Women could grow vegetables + make clothes
          • it also was important for avoiding starvation
            • further adaptive advantage
        • Kuhn + Stiner suggest this gender division explains why humans survived + neanderthals did not.
          • Neanderthals= men + women both hunted.
      • Mate choice
        • key to adaptive behaviour is reproductive success
        • gender role behaviours are related to reproductive strategies
        • BUSS - Men look for women who are physically attractive
          • BUSS - Women look for men who are able to provide with resources
        • Males should mate as frequently as they can + select women who are young and healthy (more fertile)
          • Smooth skin, glossy hair, red lips, thin waist.
        • Females also seek signs of fertility in partners but are also concerened to find someone who can provide for them.
          • Wealthy, powerful, owning powerful cars
      • Cognitive Style
        • E-S Theory
          • Research shows that women are better at empathising (understanding what others think and feel) whereas men are better at systematising (understanding and building systems)
            • Baron-Cohen calls this E-S theory: Empathising + Systematising
              • + proposes that this gender difference may be the result of a selection pressure for males (who develop better hunting strategies) and females (who are focused on rearing children)
                • + males who were able to systematise with greater precision would have gained an evolutionary advantage
        • Tend and Befriend
          • Women may not just be better at empathising but may also be more focused on interpersonal concerns i.e relationships between people
            • Taylor have proposed that this may stem from the different challenges faced by men + women
              • Men = deal with threats by getting ready to fight or flee
              • Women = protect themselves + their young by grouping together with other family units.
          • Women 'tend and befriend' at times of stress. Men become defensive.
    • Commentary
      • Speculative theories
        • Common criticism of evolutionary explanations = ignore social explanation + determinist + speculative i.e. they don't have a firm basis
        • The idea that the Neanderthals died out because of division of labour is plausible but there is no direct evidence
          • Other theories (Tzedakis) e.g. climate change are equally plausible
      • Research support
        • Mate Choice
          • Waynforth + Dunbar confirmed the predicted difference in how males and females advertise themselves to the opposite sex
            • Researchers used personal adds to assess what men and women were seeking + what they were advertising
              • They found 44% of males sought physically attractive partner compared to 22% of women.
                • 50% of women offered attractiveness whereas only 34% of males did
        • Tend and Befriend
          • Ennis conducted a natural experiment to test male-female stress responses. They sampled levels of cortisol a week before exams (low stress) and right before exam (high stress)
            • In males there was a significant increase in cortisol levels whereas females decreased.
              • supports the view that women respond to the stress in different ways
          • Taylor showed that in women oxytocin levels increased with stress, a hormone which reduces anxiety + makes people more sociable.
      • Implications
        • The meat-sharing hypothesis
          • When humans went from veg to meat diet men became the hunters because of selective pressures
            • Stanford: Men used meat as a means of attracting female interest
            • Hill + Kaplan: studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies have found that men use meat as a means of gaining access to women
        • Autism
          • Baron-Cohen proposed autism may be an example of the extreme male brain that excels at systematising+ lacks ability to empathise
            • Autism is characterised by difficulties with social relationships and social communication + appears strongly linked to an inability to understand what other people are thinking/feeling
          • Baron-Cohen found that autistics score high at systematising and low on empathising i.e. they have an extreme male brain
    • The evolutionary approach is biological, suggesting that aspects of human behaviour have been coded into our genes because they were, or are, adaptive.
      • The alternate view is that behaviour is effected by nurture,a view proposed by the social approach.
    • Another criticism is that the approach is determinist i.e. our genes specify exactly how we will behave.
      • Genes specify that men naturally take the roll of the hunter and have a natural inclination to seek younger women as partners.
        • This determinist interpretation fails to take into account the view of evolutionary psychologists that genes only predispose us to behave in certain ways but do not dictate.
          • Other factors also determine behaviour e.g. culture,personal experiences.
    • Support for evolutionary explanations comes from a number of sources e.g. historical records, experiments, questionarries + cross cultural studies.
      • CCS: used to test whether behaviours are universal or influenced by cultural practices.
        • One of the main difficulties with such research is the degree to which data collected actually represents the behaviour of people from different cultures
          • e.g. people do not always represent themselves honestly in questionnaires and sometimes the questions may not make sense.
  • Women = protect themselves + their young by grouping together with other family units.
  • Taylor showed that in women oxytocin levels increased with stress, a hormone which reduces anxiety + makes people more sociable.

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