Psychological Explanations of gender development

  • Gender dyshoria

Biological influences on gender

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Explain what is meant by gender dysphoris (5)


Gender dysphoria (also known as gender identity disorder) is a condition in which people are uncomfortable with the gender to which they have been assigned (dysphoria means unhappiness). In the extreme, this can lead to transsexualism, a desire to change your gender. Most people are happy with the gender in which they have been reared but in a few cases individuals do not feel that they have been assigned the correct gender. Some girls feel as if they should be a boy and conversely, some boys feel that they are a girl. This is more common in boys but occurs in both sexes.

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Outline one or more explanations of gender dysphor

Explanations for Gender Dysphoria

1. The biological explanation: the influence of prenatal hormones. Girls have sex chromosomes known as XX whilst boys have sex chromosomes known as XY.

One explanation of gender dysphoria is that it is caused by unusual development in parts of the brain before birth. There are small areas of the brain that are different in males and females. The theory is that in people experiencing gender dysphoria one of these areas has developed in a way that corresponds to the opposite sex of their other biological sex characteristics. It is possible that hormones can cause parts of the brain to develop in a way that is not consistent with the genitalia and, usually, with the chromosomes. This means that the brain has not developed in a way that corresponds to the gender assigned to the child at birth.

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2. Family constellations. Stoller points out that certain family conditions are associated with gender dysphoria. For boys who want to be girls, he suggests that there is an over-close relationship with the mother and a distant father. For girls who want to be boys, he suggests that that they have a depressed mother in the first few months of their life and a father who is either not present or does not support the mother but leaves the child to try to control the mother’s depression.

Rekers links gender dysphoria in boys to absence of a father figure, either physically or psychologically.

Bleiberg, Jackson, and Ross have linked the development of gender dysphoria with an inability to mourn a parent or an important attachment figure in early life.

De Ceglie (2000) suggests that parents have a strong desire for a child of the opposite sex and, not necessarily deliberately, reinforce gender-inappropriate behaviour.

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Outline the role of hormones and genes in gender d

Prenatal Sexual Development

When the ovum (egg) combines with a sperm, the zygote that is formed will either have XX chromosomes, and be a girl, or XY chromosomes, and be a boy.

The Influence of the Sex Chromosomes

We have discussed one influence of the Y chromosome: to induce the release of testosterone in the developing foetus.

The Y chromosome is one fifth of its size, hence boys carry less genetic material than girls, and this may be one reason why males are more vulnerable than females throughout their lives. Montagu (1968, see A2 Level Psychology page 245) listed 62 specific disorders that are largely or wholly due to sex-linked genes and found mostly in males, including some very serious ones, such as haemophilia, as well as less important ones such as red/green colour-blindness.

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The Role of Hormones

Each sex has identical sex hormones; the difference between them is the amount they produce. Within normal biological development, females produce a preponderance of female sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone), whilst males produce a preponderance of androgens (a collection of male hormones) of which one of the most important is testosterone.

Up to about the age of 8–10, negligible amounts of sex hormones are produced by either sex but after that both sexes produce more male and female hormones. From around 11 years of age, both girls and boys increase their production of female hormones but females produce far more than boys. Conversely, once children reach puberty both sexes increases their production of male sex hormones rapidly but boys more so than girls.

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