Biological + Biosocial approach to Gender

including biological, biosocial and evolutionary approach

  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 08-04-15 17:04

Biological AO1; Genes and Hormones


  • Girls have 2 X chromosomes, and men have an XY combination.
  • On the Y chromosome there is a gene called the AMH (anti mullerian hormone), which suppresses the Mullerian system, and replaces it with the Wolffian system.
  • The mullerian system causes the gonads (unspecialised glands found in all embryos) to develop into ovaries, vagina and cervix
  • The wolffian system instead develops them into testes, vas deferens and seminal vesicles


  • The testes start to release androgens, such as testosterone, which promotes the wolffian system
  • Developing the male sex organs and masculinising the brain e.g. testosterone speeds up brain development, especially in the right side, perhaps leading to a more systematic and language ability.
  • The sexually dimorphic nucelus is also 2x bigger in males.
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Biological IDA

Nature v nurture

  • It shows us how hormones and genes affect gender, using purely biological mechanisms.
  • This means that gender is already decided before social conditioning. The theory, which is relatively recent, has added a new side to the debate, and a lot of very compelling research.
  • However, by ignoring the nature side, the theory could be seen as close minded and deterministic. Society's idea of femininity is just as important in gender development of a girl, as is gender, because it is not written in our genes for girls to like pink, but yet, very young girls are obsessed with it.
  • Therefore there must be social side of gender development, making the biological theory less encompassing of all gender.
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Biological Research: Reimer and Baron Cohen


  • after a botched circumcision at 8 months, his penis and testes were removed completely at 22 months.
  • He was brought up as a girl, but was always very unhappy. He reverted back to make after learning the truth.

this is good for the biological theory as it shows how important the role of genes are in maculinising the brain, even before socialization.

Baron Cohen

  • Found that foetal testosterone is inversely associated with language and social development, but positively associated with autistic traits such as systemizing and attention to detail.

Good for the theory as shows how a male testosterone leads to typically male characteristics, and justifies the role of hormones in masculinisation of the brain.

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Biological research: Gorski+ Young


  • Diamond found that female baby rats were born with male like genitalia when exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb.
  • They also showed male like mating behaviour.

Positive for the theory as it shows how important the role of hormones is in animals, before socialization. Male hormones lead to male behaviour.


  • Young found that female orangutans who were subjected to high levels of prenatal testosterone showed more rough and tumble play than the control.

This also shows us how behaviour is affected in animals by levels of testosterone, justifying its importance in our own perception of gender.

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Biological research evaluation


  • Reimer= high ecological validity
  • Baron Cohen= high control, real life individuals
  • Diamond and Young= cause and effect is established, as shows importance of hormones in mammalian gender development.


  • Reimer- immoral which is bad for name of psychology
  • Reimer- low populational validity. Cant be used to generalsie for all gender in people
  • Reimer- social influences before 22 months could have caused his unease (BIOSOCIAL?)
  • Baron Cohen- could mother with high testosterone be  less emotional and empathetic, influencing their children.
  • Diamon and young- unethical use of animals
  • Diamond and young- animals, so not entirely generalisable to humans.
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Biological wider evaluation

Social sensitive/deterministic

  • Says men are more systematic and focused on detail where women are more caring.
  • This could lead to predjudices in the work place against either sex.
  • As genes are unchangeable, this makes the theory deterministic.


  • Animal research by Young and Diamond subjected animals to high levels of artificial hormones.
  • Many people criticise this practice and this could give psychology a bad name.

Other theories

  • Socialization is ignored by this theory, even though differences between cultures show they do have have an effect.
  • Gender Schema theory suggest how children develop ideas surrounding gender, and use stereotypes; the biological theory does not attempt to explain this.
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Biosocial AO1

  • Focuses on the interaction  of biological and social/cultural factors.
  • Biology acts as a foundation for the social influences, which are emphasised as the key element in gender differences.
  • The innate characterstics and behaviour of a newborn cause them to be labbeled and changes how adults treat them;  this could include their sex.
  • e.g. female babies could act more passively. and so are interacted with more calmly therefore shaping female characterstics of caring and empathetic.
  • The child's gender identity is consistent the way the child has been raised, which can be subtly different with boys and girls.
  • Gender is flexible, as different cultures will treat different gendered children with different stereotype.
  • A child's sexual identity must be assigned before their 3rd birthday, and after this, it cannot be changed.
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Biosocial IDA

Nature v nurture

The biosocial approach attempts to desribe the interaction between social and biological factors in gender.

It does this by establishing the key difference in biological, but that effects socialisation through interaction. In this way it focuses on nurture as the main factor is gender role development.

It ignores the role of biological hormones and genes shaping the brain, and so this makes the theory less compelling.

However, focus of nurture creates more practical applications, allowing alteration of social policy and care of infants/children.

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Biosocial research: Smith and Lloyd

Smith and Lloyd

  • 1978
  • Adults treated babies differently according to the gender they perceived them to have.
  • 6 month old dressed in pink and femininely named were given dolls and played with more gently.
  • 6 month olds dressed in blue and masculinely named were more boisterously played with and given a squeaky hammer to play with.

Supports the theory as the interaction of the adults varied from the, what they thought, was a biologically defined variable- sex. However, it is not longitudinal, so we cannot see if the different interactions resulted in alternative development.

However, equally supports the social theories, as the adults preconcieved ideas about gender are reinforced by the colour of clothes and names, and chidlren the learn the preconceptions about gender. The interaction is not dopwn to the behaviour of the child, but the stereotypes around gender.

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Biosocial research: Reimer and Animal studies

David Reimer

  • could have been exposed to a lot of male-orienteted interaction before his sex-change at 22 months.
  • This could have lead to the failure of his sex change, rather than biological mind.
  • HOWEVER- his gender was assigned befor 3 years, and so he should have been consistent with it.

The chimpanzees

  • tended to play is a more rough and tumble manner, when subjected to testoterone.
  • This difference in behaviour due to high testosterone levels (typical of boys) could lead to a more boisterous interaction from parents.
  • In humans, this could cause male gender, as it is consistent with raising. This could then support the biosocial theory.
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Biosocial Research: Dominican Republic

Imperato-McGinely, Guerro, Gautier and Peterson

  • Family in Dominican Republic.
  • Four of their sons appeared - biologically - to be female when they were born and were reared as girls.
  • However, at the age of around 12, they developed male genitals and started to look like ordinary adolescent males.
  • Despite the fact that all four of them had been reared as girls and thought of themselves as females, they adjusted well to their male role. They took on male jobs, married and were accepted by men.

This opposes the Biosocial theory, as it shows how their assigned gender was changed much later than 3years old. and this was an easy transition. They were inconsistent with their upbringing. This suggests that their biology determined them to become boys, and this was the pivotal factor in their gender development.

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Biosocial research evaluation

Low face validity

  • Smith and Lloyd, and Hagan and Kuebli merely demonstrates how adults treat different genders, but not if this treatment effects the future gender roles and ideas a child has. Therefore, it cannot justify the theory.
  • Reimer's and the DRP case studies show that he was not happy with his gender, but does not control for the biological or social learning theory. It only vaguely relates to biosocial, and by assumption.
  • Animal studies don't have the same level of social depth as humans, and so we cannot value the boisterous behaviour as similar to gender.

Low population

  • Western bias- the studies are carried out in the west, which will have very different interaction with children than in Asia and Africa.
  • Reimer is one person, and Domincan family just one family.

OVERALL- the research is vague and is not highly specific to the biosocial approach. The research is just/more applicable to other theories, and so cannot be used to justify this theory.

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Biosocial wider evaluation

IGNORES biological approach

  • it says that the initial differences between babies may be biological but the long lasting impact of gender development is from nurture only.
  • there is a lot of evidence for the biological explanation, so this makes the biosocial approach less compelling.

More practical applications

  • Parents play a big role in the gender development, as it is consistent with their raising.
  • Therefore, information about less gender stereotypical methods of parenting could develop a more accepting and open society concerning gender roles.

DIFFICULT TO TEST-  unscientific

  • It is very difficult to separate biolgical and nurture factors.
  • It is also unethical to subject a child to an artofical childhood, where their gender is treated differently to usual.
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Biosocial approach to dysphoria:AO1

Biosocial theory argues that gender is flexible, and so could attempt to describe gender dysphoriaIt focuses on biology as the foundation of which social factors are built on e.g. the babies innate characteristics affects how it is interacted with.

  • HORMONAL IMBALANCES in the womb-- this may result in babies behaviour being more in line with the opposite sex, and so are the initial foundation for gender dyphoria.
  • Hormones which trigger sexual development may not work on the brain, causing a disjunction between the two (physical appearance of male, but female brain.)
  • The BSTc is the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis central subdivision located in the hypothalamus. It is developed by 5 and bigger in males
  • Females with gender dysphoria would have a male sized BSTc, and vice versa.
  • Girls may then act more boisterously, and be encouraged to act more maculinely, resulting in gender dysphoria.
  • There are cultural differences in gender dysphoria- as it is more 'common' and accepted in Thailand, boys who shows feminine characteristics are raised very differently, than in western societies. This could be explained by the biosocial theory, as their upbringing is consistent with their gender dysphoria.
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Biosocial + dysphoria: IDA

  • Acknowledges that gender dysphoria is a complex interaction of nature and nurture.
  • However, the raising of a child is most important in their gender identity development.


If a child was born with a opposite-sex-sized  BSTc, but they were socialized as their own sex, nurture would override the biological difference, and the effect of BSTc would be irrelevant.  It may be that the BSTc is the key factor in gender dysphoria, making the biosocial approach invalid.

e.g.- transexuaals wth opposite-sized BSTc's.

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Biosocial dysphoria research: Zhou


  • 6 transexuals
  • Found that the MTF transexuals had a female sized BSTc.
  • Foud that the FTM transexuals had a male size BSTc.
  • Further work concluded that this wasn't the product of artificial hormone treatment.
  • Concluded that the BSTc size was responsible for our gender identity.


  • Follow up study but measuring the neuron density, and found even more dramatic differences.

This may be able to support the biosocial approach, as the BSTc may have determined the childs behaviour, and therefore their raising. This would have cause gender dysphoria.

Alternatively, their raising may have  effected the size of the size of the BSTc, which isn't fully developed until 5.

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Biosocial research: describing children

  • Boys with gender dysphoria were rated as more attractive than control children.
  • There mothers were more likely to describe them as beautiful infants than control mothers.

The biosocial approach would say that these children were socialised more femininely due to their appearance, resulting in gender dysphoria. An example of this is the language their mother's used to describe them.


Maybe the mothers now call their boys beautiful because they know they want to be more feminine.

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Biosocial research: cultural variation

  • Gender dysphoria is more understood and widely accepted, and so gender realignment is increasing.
  • In Thailand, rates of realignment are even more common.

The biosocial approach would say this is due to the inborn characteristics of a child being more willingly embraced nowadays, than last century.

However, the varying rates may just be an expression of the freedom people feel they have around their gender identity, and not the freedom parents have about the raising of their children.

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Biosocial dysphoria research evaluation


  • Zhou didn't analyse the upbringing of the transexuals, but just the size of the BSTc, therefore the research cannot be used to justify the biosocial theory. There is no control over the upbringing, so it would be invalid to use it as a justification for the theory.


  • The words used to desribe the dysphoric boys could be due to their mothers now understanding their condition. This means they could have been socialising them according to their physical sex before, and their BSTc overuled this nurture.
  • The cultural variations could just be down to the variation of freedom and expression around gender dysphoric issues, and not the actual occurence of gender dysphoria due to parental influence.

ZHOU has low populational validity- only 6 participants.

Low control in the other two studies makes them internally invalid, and therefore not useful for justifying the biosocial theory.

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Biosocial and dysphoria wider evaluation


  • Gender dysphoria can be a very uncomfortable and distressing condition.
  • The theory puts the blame on parents.
  • This is an unhelpful and unprogressive stance, as its suggests something went wrong, rather than something is just different and should be embraced.


  • Much more compelling evidence
  • Children's BSTc is sized in the opposite way to their socialization, and this causes the gender dysphoria.

It has been generally agreed that the source of gender dysphoria is biological, and so the biosocial approach is less relevant.

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Parental Investment theory: Parental care

Parental Care


  • Limited parental care needed
  • Many babies at once, so less invested time and resources into each one.


  • Minimum of 9 months of investment.
  • Usually one child at a time
  • Can be sure it is their child
  • So much more investment
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Evolutionary: Parental Investment: Mate Selection

Mate Selection


  • Mates should be young and fertile, as they have better chance of successful pregnancy
  • attractive (symmetrical) - good genes and little disease/infections.
  • These allow children to be more successful in turn.


  • Mates should have status and strength- ebtter proetction for them and child
  • Resources- child can be provided for
  • Young- genes are strong and have a long time ahead of them to provide.
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Evolutionary: Parental Investment: Sexual Jealousy

Sexual Jealousy


  • Paternity question emans mates should be faithful
  • Therefore show more sexual jealousy.


  • No maternity question so less sexual jealousy
  • However, still want/need as many resources as possible.
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Evolutionary theory: Parental Investment IDA

Socially sensitive

  • It claims that that the roles men and women play in society are actually innate.
  • The suggestion that woman look for rich men, and are naturally inclined to look after children, may prevent movements towards equality in work and home.
  • It also says that men are more likely to cheat on woman, and base thei partners on looks only, suggesting they are shallow. This also supports steroetypes, and could offend many men.

This makes the theory potentially damaging, and since it has veruy little evdience with is scientifically valid, the theory should not be used lightly.

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Parental investment: research: Buss

  • Surveyed 37 cultures
  • More than 10,00 particpants
  • Questionnaires were completed
  • Respondents rated a number of factors such as ages, intelligence and sociability on according to importasnce in a partner.
  • Men valued physical attractiveness than women.
  • Women preffered good earning power and high occupational status.
  • In all cultures women preffered the man to be older.

This supports the parental investment theory because women look for older males with more resources and power, therefore ensuring better security, resoyrces and proetction for thei roffspring. This would be a slective advantage in the gene pool.

Men look for youth and attractiveness, improving their fertility, and pregnancy success.

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Parental investment researtch evaluation



  • Large population sample- 10,000 participants


  • Self-report techniques are vwery open to demand caharcterstics and social desirbaility bias, leading to internal invalidity for teh study.
  • The questions may also have a western bias, as they were written by a western researcher. This could mean the study has imposed etic, and so all cultures seem to have similar gender roles to the West.
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Parental Investment wider evaluation

Lack of practical applications

  • The theory is very deterministic, and says that men and women have evolved to carry out these roles.
  • It doesn't attempt to describe gender dysphoria or transexuality.
  • This makes it less useful.

Lack of scientific validity

  • The evolutionary theory is impossible to prove as it takes so long to carry out.
  • Therefore, cause and effect cannot be established, and we cannot postively justfiy the theory.
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Empathising and systemising theory: AO1

Female brain:

  • predominantly hardwired to empathy (identifying emotions and throughts for appropraite response.)
  • e.g. left brain is more language and empathy based and studies show women use this side more than men.
  • This gives them a mothering advantage, as they can assess the need sof children.
  • This means their chidlren would have a better cahnace at surving, and passing on these genes.

Male brain:

  • predominatly hardwired for systemizing.
  • This is working out , deisgning and using a system which follows a set of rules (which could be a tool, a team or a machine.)
  • This allows mean to be better hunters and users of tools.
  • Autism is associated with extreme male mind, perhaps explaining why the diagnosis is more common in men.
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Empathising and systemzing: IDA

Determinist and socially sensitive

It suggests that women will always be better at caring and perosnability than men, who shoudl be better at systemizing, numbers and logic.

This could dtermine job roels, resulting in gender prejudice. Some men may want to be carers of eldery or chidlren, and some women prefer science/maths based careers. However the theory says they will never be as good their gender counterpart.

This could cause oppression and reduce progression in creating more equality within jobs.

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E&S research: Connellan and Batki

Two hypotheses

  • One day old baby girls will spend more time looking at a human face than a mechanicak object.
  • One day old babie biys will spend more time looking at a mechanical object than a human face.
  • The babies saw Connellan's face and a mobile toy over their crib. Connellan was not told the gender of the baby.
  • The babies were filmed and the hypotheses were supported by the results recorded.

The results support the thoery as male babies were predominantly interested in a systemiatic toy, whereas girls preffered an emotive human faced.This must be an instinctive difference, as the babies were so young they could not have been socialised yet.

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E&S research: Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright

  • Developed questionnaires to assess peopels empathizing quotient and their Systemizing quoteint (Their EQ and SQ)
  • Males consistently score higher on the SQ  and females on the EQ.
  • However, some males do score higher on the EQ, and women on the SQ.

This syudy partially supports the theory, as men generally have greater systemizing ability than empathizingh abilities, and vice versa for women.

However, the individual differences suggest that the theory is not as determinsitic or has as much predictuive validity. These differences could be explained by social factors or even pre-natal hormonal imbalances.

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E&S wider evaluation

Few practical appplications

Cannot actually be observed

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