- The psychological explanation for gender dysphoria states that the disorder stems from unresolved childhood issues and is related to mental illnesses arising from childhood trauma or maladaptive upbringing. One example of this was when Stoller (1975) looked at individuals diagnosed with gender identity disorder and observed that many of the boys displayed overly close mother-son relationships. He explained that this would be likely to lead to greater female identification and confused gender identity, showing how a maladaptive upbringing could lead to cross gender fantasies.
- This approach considers social factors to be a significant cause of gender dysphoria as it claims it is largely due to the way you are bought up.
+ The psychological explanation of gender dysphoria does have strengths in the form of supporting evidence. For example Coates (1991) conducted a case study of a boy suffering from GID and found it to be a defensive reaction to his mother’s depression following an abortion. This case study would suggest that traumas suffered at a young age could well be a cause of gender dysphoria and that it develops as a coping mechanism, therefore supporting the psychological explanation of gender dysphoria.
+ Furthermore due to the fact that this was a case study the results have high ecological validity because the scenario was representative of a real life situation. This makes the results found more generalizable to real life and as such increases the validity of the psychological explanation. Because of the increased validity of the psychological explanation of gender dysphoria it would be correct to assume that a maladaptive upbringing causes the condition.
- However this explanation has weaknesses in the form of methodological issues with the supporting evidence. Due to the fact that this case study only looked at one individual boy, who was exposed to an unusual situation, the study takes an idiographic approach, meaning the research only focuses on an individual case as a means of understanding behaviour. A result of this is that the population validity is lowered and therefore we cannot generalise the results found to the wider population as they may only be specific to the individual.
- One person cannot be representative of the entire population i.e. if a similar situation arose amongst others the same results may not be found which therefore limits the usefulness of the results. This means we cannot be sure that a maladaptive upbringing is the primary factor causing gender dysphoria, so other factors aside from this psychological explanation should be considered when looking at gender dysphoria. In addition to this the fact that this particular study is ideographic it makes it harder to determine that this research evidence is scientific as science usually takes a nomothetic approach.
- Furthermore there are also limitations of the psychological explanation of gender dysphoria due to contradictory evidence; Cole (1997) studied 435 individuals experiencing gender dysphoria and reported that the range of psychiatric conditions displayed was no greater than what would be found in the 'normal population'. This would suggest that gender dysphoria is generally unrelated to trauma or pathological families, which undermines one of the main assumptions of the psychological explanation that GID is derived from trauma or mental illness. Due to the lack of findings it would suggest that the psychological explanation of gender dysphoria is not very reliable which therefore weakens it as an explanation.
- Another explanation for gender dysphoria is our biology, a range of biological explanations have been put forward in relation to the effects of hormones on development. One possibility is that environmental pollution such as insecticide DDT contains oestrogens which can result in the male embryo being exposed to unduly high levels of the female hormone prenatally which could lead to a mismatch between genetic sex and hormones, subsequently resulting in GID.
- A second possibility is that prenatal hormone levels may be affected by genetic conditions which could be the cause of the mismatch between hormones and genetic sex. Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) and congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) may result in an intersex condition when external genitalia do not match the genetic sex so the individual is assigned with the wrong gender at birth. This can explain why their gender identity would not match their assigned sex as it is not correct, both biological explanations put emphasis on the fact that hormonal imbalance prenatally is what causes gender dysphoria.
+ There are strengths of this explanation in the form of supporting evidence. For example Vreugdenhil (2002) reported that boys born to mothers who were exposed to dioxins, which can promote oestrogen, displayed feminised play.
+ This study suggests that hormones can influence gender identity as boys exposed to abnormal levels of oestrogen were more feminine with their behaviour, suggesting that gender identity does have a biological cause which in turn supports the biological explanation of gender dysphoria.
+ Due to the fact that the biological explanation of gender dysphoria has supporting evidence the validity of it increases which therefore indicates that we can assume that biological factors do in fact play a key part in the development of the disorder.
- However due to their being methodological issues with the research the biological explanation of gender dysphoria is weakened. Due to the study being based upon observation, findings were entirely subjective to the researcher observing them. What may considered to be 'feminine' to some may not be to another, and so this lack of objectivity lowers the internal validity of the study as we cannot be sure that the findings were not a result of researcher bias or other confounding variables.
- This makes the study less scientific due to it being subjective and as a result makes it more difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between biological factors and gender dysphoria, therefore weakening the validity of the supporting study and in turn the biological explanation. Due to the lowered validity we cannot correctly assume that biological factors are the main driving force behind gender dysphoria.
- Both explanations of gender dysphoria are reductionist because neither considers the alternative approach. This can be considered a strength because it allows us to fully isolate cause and effect and understand that specific explanation in greater depth. This would allow for more speculated treatments of gender dysphoria because only one approach is considered and fully understood.
- However being reductionist can also cause problems because not all possible factors are considered which could leave many aspects of the individuals disorder unexplained.
- By being reductionist treatments would be largely ineffective in a number of cases as the individual would not receive a treatment to cover all aspects of the disorder.
- Due to this an interactionist approach should be taken which would mean that all factors are looked at when assessing why people develop gender dysphoria, and therefore more appropriate treatments would be created, thus increasing the person’s chance of overcoming the disorder.