Evolutionary explanations of gender roles

HideShow resource information

Division of Labour - A01

Evolutionary psychologists argue that this gender role division appeared as an adaption to the challenges faced by ancestral humans in the EEA (The environment of Evolutionary adaptiveness) . Therefore, the role differences we observe are more a product of our biological inheritance than aquired through socialisation. 

Division of labour... 

Complementary division of labour was adaptive in the EEA because it enhanced reproductive success and also helped aviod starvation. The role division may have evolved because women spent most of their adult life either pregnant or producing milk or both; if a women spent all her time hunting this would reduce the groups reproductive success. Men are typically the hunters, women also contribute by growing vegetable, milling grain and making clothes. 

Lack of division... KUHN and STINER suggest that this gender division of labour might actually explain why humans (**** sapiens) survived, whereas the Neanderthals did not. Based on hunting injuries found, both female and male Neanderthals hunted. So when hunting was unsuccessful they was no backup of other food. A more adaptive division of labour evolved in humans but didn't in Neanderthals.

1 of 8

Division of Labour - A02

A key weakness is that evolutionary explanations are speculative . For example the appearance of gender - related division may be a plausible explanation for the disappearence of Neanderthals, but we have no direct evidence. Other theories are equally plausiable, for example climate change in Europe around 30,000 BC

2 of 8

Mate Choice - A01

The key to adaptive behaviour is reproductive success, therefore there are many gender related roles to reproductive strategies.

Men look for physical attractiveness ( glossy hair, hips, youth, fertility) whereas women are additionally interested in resources ( money, power) a partner may be able to provide. The evolutionary explanation for this is again related to the way males and females maximise their reproductive success. 

To increase reproductive success males mate with as many fertile women and a frequently as possible. Women seek signs of fertility but are more concerned to find a partner who can provide resources. 

So in terms of gender roles to increase attraction women enhance their physical attractiveness and men show off their power (status) and resources ( large cars, house etc) 

3 of 8

Mate Choice - A02

research support for mate choice... 

The predicted differences in how males and females advertise themselves to the opposite sex was confimed in a study by...BUSS who questioned men and women in 37 cultures. He found that as predicted 

  • Men placed more importance on physical attractiveness in a mate. Evidence of a womens fertility and reproductive value
  • Women more than men desired mates who had good financial prospects i.e had resources or ambition.

A further study to support this come from... WAYNFORTH AND DUNBAR who used personal ads 'lonely hearts' to demostrate that as predicted

  • Men sought after physical attractiveness than did women (44% - 22%) 
  • Women sought after resources than did men (50%-34%) 
4 of 8

Cognitive Style - A01

E-S Theory - Baron - Cohen

Research has shown that women are better at empathising whereas men are better at systemising. This gender difference may be the result of a selection pressure for males, who develop better hunting strategies, and females, who are more focused on rearing children. Men who are better at systemising would have gained an evolutionary advantage. 

Women are not just better at empathising but may be also more focused on interpersonal concerns i.e. relationships between people. Taylor et al proposed another difference between men and women that would have been adaptive in the EEA is their complemetary reponse to situations of threat: 

  • Men respond with fight or flight to deal with threat. Due to ancesterol males having to be on the look out for an attacking animal etc
  • Whereas women respond with tend and befriend to protect group members, as females want to protect themselves and their young as they are the primary caregivers to children. 
5 of 8

Cognitive Style - A02

Support for E-S theory - Baron - Cohen has used his own SYSTEMISING QUOTIENT QUESTIONNAIRE e.g. 'when I read a newpaper I am drawn to table of information' And found gender differences as expected. Only 17% of males had female empathising brains, and only 17% of females had male systemising brains. This supports the theory as very little men and women had the opposite type of brain compared to their sex. Suggesting the majority of men had systemising brains and vise versa. 

Research support for Stress response/ tend and befriend... 

ENNIS et al conducted a natural experiment to test male-female differences in stress response. They tested levels of cortisol (stress hormone) a week before students took exams (low stress) and immediatley before (high stress). Cortisol increased in men but NOT women (decreased) A further study by TAYLOR ET AL showed that levels of OXYTOCIN increased in females when stressed (not males). This hormone is associated with reduced anxiety and increased sociability (tend and befriend) 

IMPLICATION - AUTISM - The E-S theory -Baron and Cohen proposed that autism may be an example of the extreme male brain. As Baron and Cohen found that autistic individuals lack the ability to empathise but excel at systemising.

6 of 8

A03 - Determinism

S: The evolutionary approach is deterministic

E: As it suggest that genes specify exactly how difference genders will behave, for example all men are hunters and all women will make food and look after the children. However in some cultures, women are the hunters such as in the Agta tribe in the philippines and the Aka pygmy tribe in central Africa.

E: This suggest that factors other than genes such as the evironment will influence gender roles within a group/family unit. Therefore the evolutionary approach of gender roles cannot be generalised to all cultures and people as it lack support to suggest otherwise. 

7 of 8

A03 - Nature - Nurture Debate

S: The Evolutionary explanation of gender roles can be explained through the nature - nuture debate.

E: As the explanatino explains that we inherit gender role (nature) however a study by MALINOSKI suggest otherwise. As they studied the TROBIAND ISLANDERS, in documenting their sexual behaviour he reported that the trobiand women were sometimes highly sexually aggressive. Gangs of women would capture and **** men from other tribe quite brutally. And would boast about their conquests to others and considered this to enhance their reputation of their tribe.

E: Therefore theis study suggests that gender roles are not just down to nature (your sex) but also the environment e.g. different cultures have different expectations about gender roles (Nurture). To conclude this debate reuces the validity of the theory as not all findings of research can be applied to all people - lack population validity and so cannot be generlised

8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Gender resources »